It is no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically “infecting” an already struggling economy, all businesses, and their employees. Employers and employees are currently doing all they can to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on businesses.
However, there are a few labour law considerations that South African businesses need to consider and both employers and employees need to be aware of their rights. Labour and employment rights are supported by various statutes and regulations issued under them, with the primary being the Labour Relations Act, 66 of 1995; the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 75 of 1997; the Employment Equity Act, 55 of 1998; the Occupational Health and Safety Act, 85 of 1993,  as well as collective agreements and sectoral determinations.[1] On 26 March 2020, many of these rights were suddenly and dramatically suspended when the entire country went into a state of “lockdown” after a state of disaster was declared in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 57 of 2002, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.[2]
But what legal ramifications does the COVID-19 pandemic have on employers and its employees? Can it really be business as usual? Currently, more than 28 000 employees referred disputes to the CCMA between April 1 2020 and May 27 2020, according to Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi and the latter is expected to increase as the lockdown regulations are being relaxed and employees return to work.
Another important consideration is business life after the entire lockdown has been lifted. Currently, many employees are receiving reduced salaries and many businesses are also applying the “no work, no-pay” principle. It is important to note that the “no-work, no-pay” principle would only apply during the mandated lockdown period and would not continue to apply after the lockdown ends. Therefore, employers who are currently dealing with temporary layoffs need to tread carefully should they wish to continue the temporary layoffs after the lockdown, as same would need to be agreed with their employees.
Author: Gershwin Boonzaaier