South Africa: Employers Braced for Controversial Changes to Employment Laws

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By Edwin Naidu

Dec. 31—Employers will have to adjust the way they have traditionally employed and managed staff under new regulations effective Jan. 1 aimed at streamlining South Africa’s labor law enforcement.

Under the Labour Relations Amendment Act, the use of labor brokers will be limited, fixed-term contracts must be at least three months in duration, part-time workers will enjoy greater legal protections, employers will be prohibited from requiring or accepting any payment by or on behalf of an employee to secure employment or affect the allocation of work and the maximum penalties that may be imposed for a breach of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act not involving underpayment will be increased for the first time since the act came into effect in 1998.

In addition, the government intends to clamp down on the use of child or forced labor, imposing maximum prison sentences for violations of the law doubled from three to six years.

‘Protection' or ‘Interference'?

Among other things, the new regulations aim to curb short-term contract work and require employers to justify failure to engage staff on a permanent basis.

According to Aadil Patel, director of employment law at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, employees will enjoy far greater protection under the new system, and “most South African businesses have already adapted the manner in which they will be doing business in anticipation of the proposed amendments.”

Equally important, workers in temporary employment must now be treated on an equal basis with full-time employees performing the same or similar work.

“This is a significant victory for many workers who have been subjected to certain abusive practices as a result of a lack of job security,” said Zizi Kodwa, African National Congress national spokesperson.

The leading voice of business in the country, Business Unity South Africa disagrees, however, arguing that the proposed amendments go far beyond preventing abusive practices and actually interfere with the flexibility of daily business operations and practices.

To contact the reporter on this story: Edwin Naidu in Johannesburg at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rick Vollmar at

For more information on South African HR law and regulation, see the South Africa primer.