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Employers must learn to walk the Labour Law tightrope


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Employers must learn to walk the Labour Law tightrope


2nd April 2024


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Section 23(1) of the Constitution of South Africa provides that “Everyone has the right to fair labour practices.”

This would mean that both employees and employers should have the right to fair labour practices and should be able to sue each other at the CCMA for breaching such rights. However, the Supreme Court of Appeal appears to disagree.


In the case of NEWU vs CCMA (2007, Vol.16 No. 11 CLL page 111) both the CCMA and the Labour Court had found that the CCMA does not have jurisdiction to hear a case brought by an employer for unfair treatment by an employee. The Court said: “…. It is not thought that employers need any protection against unfair resignations by employees. …. The majority of workers in this country are still ununionised and remain extremely vulnerable.” The Court concluded that legislation that would give the employer protection “… would be a step backwards in the field of labour relations and employment law in our country.”

In my view it is a very broad generalization to say that every employer is more powerful than its employees. Many employers are struggling to survive. And indeed, many employers are forced by economic weakness to close down.


Be that as it may, it is clear that the Courts are not prepared to uphold the employer’s Constitutional right to fair labour practice. It is also clear that labour legislation is there to protect employees. Whether this is fair or not is academic. The fact is that, if employers cannot rely on the law for protection, they must protect themselves. This involves implementing systems, strategies and mechanisms for protecting the employer’s interests. Employers are warned however, that these self-protection mechanisms must themselves comply with the labour law in order to avoid infringing the myriad of employee rights contained in our labour legislation.

So, how can employers protect themselves? They need to learn how to walk the labour law tightrope between legal compliance and productive orkplace management. This they can do by:

  • Ensuring that all managers and supervisors who hire, manage and fire employees have a thorough and clear grasp of what they may and may not do in carrying out their duties
  • Ensuring that all managers and supervisors are trained in the knowledge and skill required to manage employees in line with the law but, at the same time, in line with the requirements of productive workplace management
  • Developing human resources policies, procedures and rules that guide management in controlling employees both effectively and in compliance with the law
  • Ensuring that they have, within easy reach, reputable experts in employee relations and labour law who are able to guide employers in developing the above systems and to advise the employer on all employment issues.

The above protection mechanisms, if they are properly implemented, can assist towards leveling the playing fields on which employers and employees operate. They can enable employers to operate profitably while treating employees fairly.

To find out more about our groundbreaking, 47-part video series: WALKING THE NEW LABOUR LAW TIGHTROPE based on animated case studies  please email

Written by lvan lsraelstam, Chief Executive of Labour Law Management Consulting. He may be contacted on (011) 888-7944 or 0828522973 or via e-mail address:


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