Tag: law

The President signed the National Minimum Wage Act into law on 23 November 2018.

In terms of this Act, all employers, irrespective of which industry they are operating in, must pay at least the minimum wages as set out below:

R 15.00 per hour for domestic workers;
R 18.00 per hour for farm workers; and
R 20.00 per hour in respect of all other employees.

The effective implementation date for these wages have not yet been promulgated but all indications are that it will become effective on 1 January 2019.

Exemptions
Although the Act makes provision for employers to apply for exemption from the minimum wage, it is clear from the draft exemption regulations that the Department of Labour is simply paying lip service to this principle.

The maximum exemption an employer will be able to qualify for will be a 10% reduction on the prescribed minimum wage, which will only be granted for a year, and which will be adjudged on the employers’ profitability, solvency and liquidity. This outcome hardly seems worth the effort taking into account the inevitable red tape that will accompany the application.

South Africa adopts Cybercrime Bill

Source: South Coast Sun

Parliament’s Justice Committee officially adopted the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill last week. The Bill is aimed at bringing South Africa in line with other countries’ cyber laws and the threat of cybercrime, and it has introduced new laws regarding ‘malicious’ electronic communication.

BusinessTech outlined these proposed new crimes below:

* Any person who contravenes one of the following provisions is liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years, or to both a fine and imprisonment.

* A message which incites damage to property or violence.

* Any person who unlawfully makes available, broadcasts or distributes by means of a computer system, a data message to a person, group of persons or the general public with the intention to incite:
(a) the causing of any damage to property belonging to; or
(b) violence against, a person or a group of persons.

* A message which threatens persons with damage to property or violence. As an extension of the above, the Bill also makes it an offence to distribute messages which threatens a group of people with violence, or with damage to their property.

The Bill clarifies that ‘group of persons’ means characteristics that identify an individual as a member of a group. These characteristics include without limitation: Race; gender; sex; pregnancy; marital status; ethnic or social origin; colour; sexual orientation; age; disability; religion; conscience; belief; culture; language; birth and nationality.

* A message which unlawfully contains an intimate image.

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

Employers are entitled to use confessions as evidence in disciplinary hearings.

However, just because an employee makes a confession this does not allow the employer to fire the employee on the spot.

This is because:

• Even where the employee does confess s/he is still entitled to a proper hearing

• The confession may have been coerced

• The employee may not have understood what he was doing when he/she signed the confession

• The act to which the employee confessed may not amount to misconduct serious enough infringement to merit dismissal.

• The CCMA might find, for technical reasons, that the confession was invalid.

We need to look at each of these factors more closely:

Even where the employee does confess he/she is still entitled to proper procedure

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) gives employees the unassailable right to a hearing and not even a confession of murder will allow the employer to deviate from this principle.

Even where the employee properly confesses to an act of misconduct it may not be a serious enough infringement to merit dismissal

Dismissal would be unfair where the employee admits to having arrived half an hour late for work especially if this is a first or second offence because dismissal must be reserved for repeated offences or for gross misconduct.

The CCMA might find, for technical reasons, that the confession was invalid

For example, in the case of FAWU obo Sotyato vs JH Group Retail Trust (2001, 8, BALR 864) the employee signed a confession that he had stolen two bottles of beer. However, the CCMA ruled out this confession on the grounds that it had not been sworn before a commissioner of oaths.

The confession may not have been made willingly

If the confession was made under duress it will not qualify as a confession at all. At best it will constitute a meaningless statement coerced out of the employee; and at worst it will act as proof that the employer was seeking a scapegoat or was trying to concoct a false case against the employee as a means of getting rid of him/her for unacceptable reasons.

The employee may not have understood what he was doing when s/he signed the confession

The employee may be asked to sign a confession document but may, for example, think he/she is signing acknowledgement of receipt of a notice of a disciplinary hearing. Should this be proven the confession will become invalid.

Confessions that are properly made and wisely used can be valuable at disciplinary hearings. The challenge for the employer is therefore to obtain the expertise necessary to ensure that once a confession is made that it sticks and is appropriately used.

The meaning of ‘unfair’

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting 

The Labour Relations Act (LRA), born from the Constitution, provides that “every employee has the right not to be-
(a) unfairly dismissed; and
(b) subjected to unfair labour practice.”

Section 187 of the LRA provides that a dismissal is automatically unfair if it has an unfair reason. The section then lists the reasons for dismissal that would be unfair. For example, if the employee was fired because he/she had exercised his right to take action against the employer in terms of the LRA, this retaliatory dismissal would be automatically unfair. Again, we have an example of the employer’s interference with an employee’s right being defined as “unfair”.

‘Unfair’ is one of the most frequently used terms in labour law. The CCMA receives tens of thousands of referrals each year from employees claiming unfair treatment at the hands of their employers. It is therefore most surprising that this term is not defined in any of the statutes. The result of this is that the decision as to what is “unfair” has to be made by trade unions, employees, employers, judges, arbitrators, and legal practitioners in each individual case where unfairness is being alleged.

While the legal meaning of the term ‘unfair’ is extremely illusive every employer needs to have a proper grasp of the legal meaning of “unfair” in order to avoid the legal repercussions of doing anything unfair to its employees.

Section 188 of the LRA deems a dismissal to be unfair, even if it is not automatically unfair, if the employer fails to prove-
(a) that the reason for the dismissal is a fair reason; and
(b) that the dismissal was effected in accordance with a fair procedure.

This section explains neither what is meant by “a fair reason” nor what a “fair procedure” is. However, common law has established guidelines in these regards and these guidelines have been codified in Schedule 8 of the LRA. For example, item 7(b) includes a requirement that any person deciding whether a misconduct dismissal was fair must, amongst other things determine whether the dismissal was an appropriate sanction for the contravention of the rule that was contravened by the employee.

The word “appropriate” here again gives us a clue to what is “unfair”. That is, if the employer’s decision or action is inappropriate it could be unfair in labour law. The word “appropriate” in a labour law context implies that the employer’s action must be appropriate in the context of the specific situation in which the action was taken. Another way of putting this is that “the punishment must fit the crime”. If the employee is fired for a minor infringement or where circumstances reduce his/her liability a dismissal would usually be inappropriate and therefore unfair.

In summary, the act of an employer would be seen to be unfair if it is one-sided, unnecessary and/or inappropriate under the circumstances or infringes the employee’s rights. As employees have a vast number of very strong labour law rights employers need to ensure they understand these rights. They need to avoid taking any action affecting employees before checking with their labour law expert that it would be safe to take such action and how to go about it.

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting 

South African labour legislation gives employees a plethora of rights against the employer. So much so that many employers wonder whether the resultant burden on them makes it worth continuing to run the business.

For example, employees have, amongst others, the right to:

• Join trade unions
• Go on strike
• Procedural fairness at disciplinary hearings
• A fair reason for dismissal
• Protection form unfair demotions
• Be promoted under certain circumstances
• Minimum wages in many cases
• Sick leave, holiday leave, maternity leave and compassionate leave
• Overtime pay
• Consistent treatment
• Protection from unfair discrimination
• Representation at CCMA by a trade union representative

On the other hand, labour legislation gives employers few rights; and those that they do have are very restricted. That is, employers may exercise limited rights as long as, in doing so, they do not infringe the numerous rights given to employees.

However, one area that employers can exercise their rights is that of fiduciary duty. This means that the employee has, in certain ways, the duty to put the employer’s interests first. This does not mean that the employee must, as a way of benefiting the employer, forfeit his/her rights to leave, legal working hours or fair discipline. It does mean that the employee may not advantage himself/herself unfairly at the expense of the employer.

Specifically, this means that the employee may not:

• Place him/herself in a position where his/her interests conflict with those of the employer
• Make a secret profit at the expense of the employer
• Receive a bribe or commission from a third party
• Misuse the employer’s trade secrets
• Give a third party the employer’s confidential information.

While this principle applies generally to employees it applies more strongly to senior employees. In deciding on the extent of fiduciary duty that an employee has the courts consider a number of factors including:

• The degree of freedom that the employee has to exercise discretion in making and executing business decisions
• The opportunity for the employee to exercise this discretion in his/her own interests
• The extent to which the specific circumstances open the employer to abuse of the employee’s discretion
• The extent to which the employer relies on the employee for expertise and judgement in conducting the business
• The extent to which the employee is in a position of trust.

Clearly, the more junior the employee the less these fiduciary factors are likely to prevail. That is, with some exceptions, junior employees normally do not have the right or duty to make crucial business decisions or the opportunity to misuse decision-making power.

The line between who is a senior employee and who is not and the line between who is in a position of trust and who is not are blurred. Whether, for example, a junior salesperson is in a position of trust or not depends on the specific circumstances of each case. Therefore, in order to protect itself from employees acting against the employer’s interests every employer should:

• Build in checks and balances that prevent the abuse of power
• Inform all employees of their fiduciary duties in relation to their positions of trust
• Make sure employees at all levels know the seriousness of breach of their fiduciary duties
• Take swift, fair and consistent action against employees who breach their fiduciary duties
• Obtain expert legal advice before acting against suspects.

The controversial Films and Publications Amendment Bill, labelled by some as the “Internet Censorship Bill”, has been passed by the National Assembly.

According to the Parliamentary Monitoring group, the Bill was passed by the National Assembly on 6 March and will now be transmitted to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for concurrence. After that it heads to the desk of the president to be signed into law.

The Bill is supposed to address the shortcomings of the Films and Publications Act of 1996, but has come under fierce scrutiny since it was first gazetted, with many calling for it to be overhauled for infringing on freedom of speech.

The Bill aims to make changes in order to provide for technological advances, especially online and social media platforms, in order to protect children from being exposed to disturbing or harmful media content. It also aims to curb revenge porn and hate speech.

According to Eyewitness News, opposition Members of Parliament (MPs) criticised the legislation saying it amounts to censorship and may be unconstitutional. The vote in the National Assembly was reportedly 189 in favour, 35 against with no abstentions.

Opponents of the Bill in the past voiced concerns over the vague and broad terminology used; stipulations that would see the Film and Publication Board (FPB) overstepping into the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa’s (ICASA’s) regulatory jurisdiction; and that it contained constitutional infringements on citizens’ right to privacy and freedom of expression. Last year, the FPB made some changes to the Bill after it received many comments from the public and industry players.

Source: ITWeb 

Social media is part of the modern fabric of interaction, with some reports suggesting that 66% of users spend time checking social media accounts while at work.

Industry tracker Mediakix suggests that popular platforms YouTube and Facebook consume one hour 15 minutes per day.

But when you leave your company, who owns your Twitter, YouTube, Facebook or even Gmail account? Legal experts in SA say the law is not clear.

“This is a grey area, and it would really depend on a thorough investigation of the history, purpose and origin of the social media account in question,” Pamela Stein, head of Employment Law at Webber Wentzel told Fin24.

“In order to demonstrate ownership, the employer would have to show that the social media account was clearly created for the purposes of promoting the growth of the business, and that this growth was achieved by social media activity generated during company time.”

Personal information

She added that factors over the ownership of a social media account would depend on whether the account had been created as part of the employment contract, or for the purpose of growing the organisation’s profile.

Unlike a company cellphone, computer or car, a social media account does not only exist on a mobile device, and the law assigns protections of personal information, as described in the Protection of Personal Information Act, which forbids unwanted sharing and exploitation of personal information.

“You have rights over your identity. However, if there was a clause in the contract of employment saying any personal account created during their employment is the property of the employer – perhaps the employer would have rights to it,” specialist technology attorney Russel Luck told Fin24, though he was careful to agree that the matter is not a settled one under South African law.

“If these accounts were set up so the employee could engage with the public as an extension of his work services, then perhaps the employer would have rights over it. Even more so if the email address used to verify the social media account is a work email, not personal one,” he added.

This reflects a US case in which Phonedog sued former employee Noah Kravitz over marketing on his Twitter account. The company alleged that 17 000 Twitter followers Kravitz had amassed was a customer list and demanded damages of $340 000.

A News24 survey revealed that 53% of social media users accessed the platforms while at while at work, and 3% said they would like to, but were not allowed.

Personal logins demand

Stein said that in SA, an employer seeking to claim a social media account would have to show just cause.

“Firstly, the employer would have to establish a basis for such a claim, and then sue the employee in the appropriate court depending on the cause of action.

“The employer could seek an order prohibiting the employee from any further use of the social media account and requiring the employee to take all reasonable steps to return the social media account to them.

“In addition, all social media sites allow users to report breaches et cetera and once such an order is obtained the social media platform could be notified and requested to assist.”

However, Luck argued that for a local company to demand personal logins to social media accounts would be a contravention of South African law.

“On the other side of the coin, SA law does follow international trends that you don’t need to give your employer your login details to your personal Facebook account – ie it’s unlawful to force an employee to do this.

“Where employers are making employment, promotion, dismissal or labour decisions based on access (or lack of access) to the personal Facebook account of an employee it would amount to unfair discrimination.”

Source: Fin24

Government amends UIF Bill

A new Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) Bill has been signed into law which will see improved benefits for employees.

The purpose of the Unemployment Insurance Act, No 63 of 2001 is to provide for the payment from the Fund of unemployment benefits to certain employees and for the payment of illness, adoption, maternity and dependents’ benefits related to the unemployment of such an employee.

Among several amendments, the bill:

  • Increases UIF benefits from 238 to 365 days
  • Allows employees to apply over 12 months instead of six
  • Allows employees to apply for maternity leave benefits eight weeks before delivery and up to 12 months after birth
  • Sees a flat rate for maternity benefits (66% of a female employee’s salary)
  • Let’s the female employee who have lost their child in the last trimester qualify for maternity benefits
  • Grants people on learnerships to apply for benefits
  • UIF benefits will not be stopped when a beneficiary dies, but will be paid out to their dependents.
  • Claims from the UIF can be made for longer period

Prior to these amendments, the employee were only able to claim from the UIF for 238 days’ work. Now it is possible to claim from the UIF for 365 days work. These benefits may be claimed over 12 months instead of the previous six months.

Dependents benefits

Dependents’ benefits can be claimed by the spouse or minor children of someone who has died, who had been paying UIF contributions to the Fund.

The dependents of a deceased breadwinner now have up to 18 months in which to apply for the dependent benefit.

This is especially positive for those in low-income jobs because they often learn about such benefits being available to them long after the breadwinner has died, and traditionally in many black communities, widows are not allowed to be outside their homes for long periods while they are in mourning, which takes anything from six months or longer.

Another change is that there is now a provision that allows contributors to the Fund with no dependents to nominate beneficiaries of their choice in the event of death, provided the deceased had no spouse, life partner or dependent children.

Illness benefits

Illness benefits can be claimed if the employee is off work for two weeks due to illness and will not receive a salary from the employer. This has now been changed to seven days, meaning the employee can now claim for illness benefits if they are off work for seven days.

New additions

Learners who were on ‘learnership’, Public Servants and Foreign Nationals are now able to claim for UIF benefits.

Now let’s have a look at the changes to the Maternity Benefit and how they will impact Employees.

Maternity

Previously the employee had six months in which to claim for maternity benefits, meaning that if six months passed before the employee claims, the employee was unable to put in a claim. The time in which the employee can put in a claim has now been increased to 12 months. This means that the employee now has a year within which the employee can submit the employer application for benefits.

If the employee has claimed for maternity benefits before, the employee will recall that if the employee had claimed for any type of benefits within a four-year cycle, such as unemployment, this negatively affected the employee when the employee applied for maternity benefits during this four-year period because the employee would not be able to claim for full maternity benefits.

Fortunately, this has changed and now the employee claim for any other benefits would not affect the employee’s ability to claim for full maternity benefits.

A fixed rate of 66% of a female employee’s salary (instead of the current sliding scale of between 38% and 60%), has now been introduced, subject to the maximum income threshold as set out in the Act.

The following also applies:

Full maternity benefits can now be claimed by female employees who had miscarriages in their third trimester. The contributor is entitled to benefits for 17-32 weeks. To claim, the contributor must have been employed for 13 weeks prior to claiming the maternity-related UIF benefit.

Application for benefits can now be made before or after the birth of a child – but no later than 12 months after the birth of the child.

And after a traumatic experience of losing a child – this may go a long way towards providing the support and time to recuperate.

Source: Labour Net

US set to abandon net neutrality rules

US Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai will propose vacating Barack Obama-era net neutrality rules, according to a person briefed on the development that will hand a victory to broadband providers such as AT&T and Comcast that oppose the regulations.

Pai’s proposal is to be presented to fellow FCC commissioners on Tuesday ahead of a vote set for 14 December at the agency, where the chairman — an appointee of President Donald Trump — leads a Republican majority. Pai will seek to vacate the rules adopted in 2015, retaining only a portion that requires broadband providers to explain details of the service they are offering, said the person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the proposal isn’t yet public.

Rules to be set aside include a ban on blocking or slowing Web traffic, and a prohibition on offering “fast lanes” that give quicker service to content providers willing to pay extra. Broadband providers have argued that competition will ensure they don’t unfairly squelch traffic.

Tina Pelkey, an FCC spokeswoman, declined to comment.

Pai’s proposal is the latest step in a years-long tug-of-war over regulations dictating how companies such as AT&T and Comcast allow access to Internet content — from Facebook’s social media site to Netflix’s streaming videos.

Supporters including Silicon Valley firms argue the rules are needed to keep network owners from favouring their own content and discouraging Web start-ups. Critics say the rules discourage investment while exposing companies to a threat of heavier regulation including pricing mandates.

The regulation survived a court challenge from broadband providers last year. Previous attempts by the FCC to pass such rules ended with courts tossing them out or sending them back to be rewritten.

By Todd Shields for Bloomberg on Tech Central

M-Net, Safact and film producers want ISPs to actively issue warnings to file sharers and copyright infringers in the country – while also blocking access to infringing sites.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development has been presenting its responses to submissions received on the Cybercrimes and Cybersecurity Bill, and dozens of parties across a number of industries gave their thoughts on the bill, including Cell C, MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, R2K, Liquid Telecom and Deloitte.

While the majority of comments focused on concerns surrounding cyber-security, the bill itself, and how it will affect South Africa’s internet, one of the more interesting comments focused on piracy in South Africa.

A comment submitted by the International Federation of Film Producers Associations, Safact and M-Net highlighted concerns that government was not doing enough to combat piracy.

“A balanced approach to address the massive copyright infringement on the Internet is necessary,” the parties said in a comment.

“It is proposed that measures should be introduced to enable local internet service providers to act against copyright infringements.

“It is suggested that South Africa should consider adopting technology-neutral ‘no fault’ enforcement legislation that would enable intermediaries to take action against online infringements, in line with Article 8.3 of the EU Copyright Directive (2001/29/EC), which addresses copyright infringement through site blocking.”

The parties further said that new legislation was needed to force Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to cooperate with rights-holders. They also requested that the take down process under section 77 of the ECTA be made less time consuming and less intrusive.

“Obligations should be imposed on ISPs to co-operate with rights-holders and Government to police illegal filesharing or streaming websites and to issue warnings to end-users identified as engaging in illegal file-sharing and to block infringing content,” they said.

“This should be remedied in the Bill or the ECTA should be amended in the Schedule to the Bill,” it said.

The department responded to the comment by stating that the Cybersecurity Bill does not deal with copyright infringements, and that they were better suited for the Copyright Amendment Bill which is also currently before parliament.

Source: Business Tech 

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