26 May

South Africa has a broad and diverse labour law system consisting of regulations that are put in place to make sure that every worker is treated fairly and that employers abide by the law in the workplace. This is why workers need to have a clear understanding of the code of practice of the labour law in South Africa.

Work constitutes the biggest single activity of most peoples’ lives. Up to 60% of one’s life can be devoted to working. For most people, who are totally dependent on their salaries or wages for a living, work is a necessary means of survival. Hence labour law is a system of rules regulating one aspect of modern society, namely, work or labour. In today’s blog, UASA looks at significant labour law guidelines that may assist workers to understand regulations better.

Labour law focuses on several relationships

The first relationship is that between an employer (who may be a person, a company, or a registered company) and an employee. More formally, labour law can be defined as a compendium or collection of legal rules which regulate relationships between employers and employees, between employers and trade unions, and between employer’s organizations and trade unions.

Labour law also considers the relationship between the State, employers, employees, trade unions, and employer’s organizations. Labour law does not concern Itself only with a person-to-person relationship, but also with collective relationships or relationships between groups.

Individual and collective labour law

There is an ‘individual’ relationship between an employer and employee. Individual labour law relates to the conclusion of the contract by the employer and the individual employee, the contents of that contract, how the contract regulates certain daily responsibilities of both parties and how the contract is enforced and how the contract is terminated.

The relationship between employers, employer’s organisations, trade unions, and trade union federations are called ‘collective’ relationships because they are relationships between collective entities or ‘groups’.

Collective labour law concentrates on matters such as collective bargaining between employers and trade unions as well as strikes and lock-outs (strike is normally collective action taken by several employees for a work-related purpose). A lockout is the employer’s response to such strike which may be called by the trade union as well.

N.B. There is no watertight distinction between individual labour law and collective labour law.

Actions by collective entities may impact the individual relationship: a wage agreement concluded between an employer and a trade union may determine the amount of remuneration to which an employee will be entitled, even though the employee did not agree (it was concluded on behalf of the employee by the trade union).

Five sources of Labour Law exist in South Africa:

  • The Constitution
  • International Labour Standards
  • Labour legislation
  • Collective agreements
  • Common law and the employment contract.

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