As South Africa is now well poised to enter lockdown level 1 to start opening more businesses and exploiting the new normal, we need to be vigilant and see how we can create more jobs for everyone’s benefit.
Many employers have realised that productivity is not reliant on workers being present at work and in many cases the virtual platforms have created a more efficient structure.
It is not necessary to do business only with people in the same town, same city or even the same country. We are expecting enormous growth in outsourcing functions to numerous jurisdictions around the world.
Already, call centres have made their mark and in essence there has been an enormous growth in employment in South Africa servicing just about every other country in the world.
Future employees with other language skills will find themselves well placed when applying for jobs servicing those various countries. It must, however, be remembered that employment in South Africa at all times remains subjective to our labour legislation regardless of whether the clients are abroad or not.
Many employers are trying to argue that the contracts outline subservience to foreign legislation. Some of these employees earn foreign currency but despite this they must submit their income tax returns and the employers are obliged to register each and every one of these employees with the Department of Labour and the Receiver of Revenue.
Likewise, all the rights and duties as outlined by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act have to be followed. The Labour Relations Act governs the relationship as long as there is an employment situation.
Many employees are working from home and more than likely will continue to work from home for years to come. Our labour laws have not caught up with the situation and I envisage a lot of amendments, debates and court cases about the home work situation.
For instance, will the Department of Labour be able to investigate the working conditions of those at home? Will the employer be held responsible for poor working conditions? Can the employee demand ergonomic furniture for his or her home office?
The debate has continued and already we are having employers ask if the employees working from home are covered by the Compensation Fund.
Should an employee slip on the way to the bathroom during the work day while at home, is there a claim? This qualifies as an injury on duty and in turn qualifies for a claim from the Compensation Fund.
Furthermore, businesses will have to take out some form of insurance to cover a customer who might go and visit that employee at his or her home in order to conduct some business.
That customer might be bitten by the employees dog while they are talking about the business. There will be many disputes about whether the household insurance will cover this as opposed to the business being liable.
It will be incredibly difficult to monitor the hours of work and or the taking of leave. Many employers are insisting that the work being done must be done at that employee’s own home as opposed to doing some of that work while enjoying the luxury of a hotel in Mauritius.
Over and above this, we are starting to find employees who have completely ignored the dress code and sometimes either appear on electronic media wearing their pyjamas or in unpresentable circumstances.
Disciplinary codes will have to be updated to take care of this new style of doing business. It is currently incredibly difficult to monitor staff in staff meetings on the virtual platform. Notoriously, staff are logging on, muting themselves and disengaging their picture while embarking on other leisure activities.
It’s certainly going to be a trying time for human resource departments who are going to have to rely more and more on the integrity, honesty and trustworthiness of employees working from home.
* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer. He can be contacted at [email protected]
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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