Short-time work, a strategic response to economic fluctuations, plays a pivotal role in South African labour law. This article aims to delve into the legal intricacies and practical considerations of short-time work, providing comprehensive guidance for employers and employees on effectively managing this arrangement.

Short-time work entails a temporary reduction in employee working hours and corresponding pay. To qualify, specific conditions must be met: the reduction is of a temporary nature, the employment contract remains intact, and there is an explicit expectation of returning to full-time work.

Short-time work is an effective measure for distributing limited tasks among employees during periods of reduced demand, offering a viable alternative to retrenchment. Should employees decline short-time work, valid operational justifications for its implementation might result in dismissal, subject to following the appropriate procedures. This arrangement is designed to adapt to decreased orders, with a seamless transition back to regular duties as demand resurges.

Effectively implementing short-time work necessitates obtaining employee consent and engaging in prior consultations, given its impact on working hours and remuneration. It is worth noting that provisions for short-time work can be incorporated into employment contracts through specific clauses, included in collective agreements, or if it aligns with the customary practices of the company and employees are aware of such practices.

While short-time work is inherently temporary, no fixed duration is mandated for its application. It could span as briefly as a single day or over several months. Regardless of its duration, it should be rational and justified.

The question of how to select employees affected by short-time work frequently arises. The same criteria utilised in Section 189 dismissals apply to short-time work implementation. Furthermore, these criteria should be reasonable and devoid of any form of discrimination as outlined in Section 6 of the Employment Equity Act.

Disputes stemming from alterations to employment conditions can be referred to the CCMA in accordance with Section 64(4) of the LRA (Labour Relations Act). Such disputes are categorised as interest disputes and are non-arbitrable by the CCMA. Inconsistencies or discriminatory practices in implementing short-time work could lead to internal grievances or unfair discrimination disputes. Should an individual employee feel aggrieved, they have the option to refer the matter to the Labour Court. In instances where a substantial number of employees are affected and proper procedures have been followed, employees might opt for a strike.

In conclusion, short-time work, an adaptable tool within labour law, offers flexibility during uncertain times. A clear understanding of legal obligations ensures equitable implementation, proving advantageous for employers and employees. Open communication and mutual respect facilitate a smooth transition, highlighting how the synergy of legal frameworks and collaborative efforts yields a well-balanced response to evolving circumstances.

By Wesley Field

Provincial Manager at Consolidated Employers Organisation (CEO SA)