A. THE QUESTION:
Is an employer in the chemicals sector required to provide transport for those of its workers who work overtime until after 18h00.
B. RELEVANT LEGAL PROVISIONS
Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997:
1. Section 17(2)(a) of the Act provides that, in the case of "night work" - ie work performed after 18h00 and before 06h00 the next day, transportation must be available between the employee's place of residence and the workplace at the commencement and conclusion of the employee's shift.
2. The full text of section 17(1) & (2) reads:
"17 Night work
(1) In this section, 'night work' means work performed after 18:00 and before 06:00 the next day.
(2) An employer may only require or permit an employee to perform night work, if so agreed, and if-
(a) the employee is compensated by the payment of an allowance, which may be a shift allowance, or by a reduction of working hours; and
(b) transportation is available between the employee's place of residence and the workplace at the commencement and conclusion of the employee's shift."
3. What is the meaning of "work performed after 18h00 and before 06h00 the next day"? Although it could be argued that a day worker who works beyond 18h00
falls within the definition since he performs work after 18h00, it is unlikely that the courts will interpret the definition in this way.
4. For example, some hospitals work on a day shift from 07h00 until 19h00. A night shift works from 19h00 until 07h00. If the interpretation in the previous paragraph is applied, it would mean that the day shift would be entitled to transport because it performed work after 18h00, but the nightshift would not be so entitled because it worked until 07h00, ie not until "before 06h00". This is surely exactly the opposite from what the legislature intented.
5. Finally, the section provides that transport for night workers must be 'available' between the workplace and the employees' residence at the commencement and conclusion of their shift. No clear duty is placed on the employer to provide such transport where other transport exists.
Code of Good Practice on the Arrangement of Working Time (GN 1440 in GG 19453 of 13 November 1998)
6. Clause 4 of the Code, promulgated under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, deals with the design and evaluation of Shift Systems. These must be sensitive to the impact on employees. The information that an employer may require on the effect of shift rosters includes the means, costs and availability of transport to and from the place of residence and the personal security of the employee while commuting.
7. Codes enjoy the status of more than mere 'guidelines' to employers and employees alike, in that they must be taken into account by any person interpreting or empowering the Act. Whether or not the provisions of the Code apply to the Employer in this case will depend on the circumstances.
8. Clause 10.3.2 provides that employers who "engage employees on night work" should ensure that such employees are able to obtain safe, affordable transportation between their places of residence and their workplace. However, the mere continuation of work after 18h00 by no means indicates the engaging of employees on night work.
Bargaining Council Agreements and Minister of Labour Variations
9. It is possible to vary the basic conditions of employment by way of a collective agreement concluded in a bargaining council. As far as I have been able to determine, there is no bargaining council for the chemical sector, therefore there cannot be a relevant collective agreement.
10. There does not appear to be a ministerial determination that makes any provision relevant to the current question. In any event, an employer who is subject to a ministerial determination, or who has employees who are so subject, must prominently display a copy of the notice in the workplace. If there were a relevant determination, the employer would be perfectly aware of its rights or the lack of them.
11. The Minister also has the power to vary basic conditions of employment by making a sectoral determination establishing basic conditions of employment for employees in a sector or area. So far there have been 13 sectoral determinations but none of them relate to the chemical sector.
The employees who raised this issue with the employer are probably referring to section 17 of the Basic Conditions of Employment. However the employees concerned cannot be regarded as "night workers" since they finish work in the late afternoons or early evenings. The provisions of the Act relating to hours of overtime worked and remuneration in that regard may well apply, but it is highly unlikely that the section can be interpreted to provide authority for the proposition that the employer needs to provide transport merely because an employee has worked his day beyond 18h00. Even then, the section does not require the employer to lay on the transport but merely provides that the employer cannot use "night workers" unless such transport is available.
Thursday, 28 June 2007