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2024 Worker’s Day and the Rights of an Employee

All employees have certain rights that ensure that they are treated appropriately and are protected in the workplace. As we celebrate Worker’s Day it is a good time to discuss these rights in more detail. These rights may come from basic human rights issues, the Constitution, common law, and in some cases, and legislation such as the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 7 of 1997.

The history of Worker’s Day

This day dates back to the 1800s in the United States, when a battle was raging between workers and employers over the number of hours employees were required to work a day. It was common for employers to force their workers to work ten to 16 hours a day under unsafe conditions, and death and injuries were commonplace.

This led to workers calling for reduced working hours. In 1884, the predecessor of the American Federation of Labour urged workers to observe an eight-hour work day beginning on the 1st of May 1886. The eight-hour movement brought together skilled and unskilled workers of all nationalities in demonstrations and protests. Although the US didn’t adopt the eight-hour workday until the 20th Century, the movement inspired similar protests worldwide.

In South Africa, the first May Day celebration was in 1895 and is associated with the Johannesburg District Trades Council. At that time, black workers were not allowed to join or form trade unions, bargain collectively, or strike. Various legislations were enacted to stop such rights by regulating any gathering in the form of pickets, strikes, or protests and non-compliance resulting in incarcerations.

Before 1928 May Day was mainly a white labour affair, but thousands of African workers joined in a mass May Day march that year and it became an annual event drawing workers from all races.

Worker’s Day in South Africa holds cultural significance in the country as it signifies the long road and sacrifices made towards achieving fair employment standards.

What are your rights as an employee?

Employees are entitled to certain fundamental rights and protections. These rights ensure that workers are treated fairly and with dignity in the workplace. Some of the general rights and protections include:

  • not to be unfairly dismissed or discriminated against;
  • to be treated with dignity and respect;
  • to non-victimisation in claiming rights and using procedures;
  • safe working conditions;
  • to be provided with appropriate resources and equipment;
  • to receive the agreed remuneration on the agreed date and time;
  • to receive fair labour practices.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 deals mainly with, but is not limited to, leave days; the terms of employment; working hours; remuneration; dismissals and resignations, and more.

1. Hours of work

In terms of the Act, ordinary hours of work (i.e. not overtime) may not be more than 45 hours a week or 9 hours a day. For employees who work a 6-day week, it is 8 hours per day. Any additional hours will be considered overtime which qualifies for additional remuneration.

Overtime is limited to a total of 10 hours per week and may not exceed 3 hours of overtime per day. Overtime work must be paid at no less than 1.5 times the normal hourly rate, or time off (equivalent to 1.5 times), or partially paid and partially paid time off.

2. Leave

Employees are entitled to:

  • Paid leave – no less than 21 consecutive days per completed year of employment (or 1 day for 17 days worked, or 1 hour for 17 hours worked), on full pay.
  • Sick leave – 30 days paid sick leave for every 36 months worked, on full pay.
  • Family Responsibility Leave – Three days paid leave during each twelve-month leave cycle to discharge family responsibilities.

3. Minimum wage

The current national minimum in South Africa is R27,58 for each ordinary hour worked. The increase came into effect on 1 March 2024.

4. Trade Union

An employee has the right to make a complaint to a trade union representative (shop steward) a trade union official or a labour inspector concerning any alleged failure or refusal by an employer to comply with the Act.

Disciplinary Procedures and Grievance Handling

Disciplinary procedures and grievance handling aim to ensure that employees are treated fairly and to provide a mechanism for resolving workplace disputes and grievances. Employers must ensure that they have clear disciplinary procedures in place to address misconduct or poor performance, while employees should be aware of their rights and the steps to follow when raising a grievance.

Factors to consider in disciplinary procedures and grievance handling include:

1. Fair process:

Disciplinary procedures have to be fair and unbiased. This includes providing the employee with a fair opportunity to state their case, conducting a thorough investigation, and imposing appropriate disciplinary measures.

2. Progressive discipline

A progressive approach to discipline should be adopted by employers, which includes giving employees an opportunity to improve their behavior or performance before resorting to more severe measures.

3. Grievance procedure 

There needs to be a clear grievance procedure in place, allowing employees to raise concerns or complaints without fear of reprisal. The procedure should outline the steps for lodging a grievance, the timeframe for resolution, and the escalation process if the grievance is not resolved satisfactorily.

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Labour laws play a crucial role in South Africa in protecting rights and ensuring the fair treatment of employees. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, understanding these laws is essential for creating a harmonious and productive work environment.

Please note that the information provided in this blog post is general in nature and should not be construed as legal advice. For specific legal guidance, we encourage you to reach out to our team of experienced attorneys.


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