South Africa has some of the toughest labour laws in the world and workers are well protected against any sort of abuse or exploitation. This often works against employers, especially small to medium enterprises that do not have the time or money to battle employees in court. However, it is important for workers to realise that the law does not allow them to do as they please and employers do not live in fear of taking action against wayward workers. If you are not towing the line then expect to face your employer’s ire by the way of a warning letter or application of the “no work no pay” principle.
When is no work no pay applied?
South African workers have the privileged of paid leave, sick leave and even compassionate leave during which they are paid although not at work. This is where it ends though. Anything above and beyond paid or sick leave technically falls in the area of “no work, no pay”. It is also important to realise that you cannot offset one leave for another and hope to bypass the “no work no pay” principle. For example, if you were off work sick but do not have a medical certificate to prove it, you cannot ask your employer to write it off against your paid leave (vacation or holiday time) for the year.
The principle is simple – if you are not at work or working then you will not be paid – provided that you are not on paid or sick leave at the time.
The grey area, and a point of contention, is whether striking workers should be paid or not. Technically the employee just outside the work premises but is not working. While it may be the democratic right of workers to strike this is not a right that they are paid to exercise. Essentially a striking worker is in dispute with the employer about some point or the other – in South Africa this is most often a wage or salary dispute.
Although the no work no pay principle applies during this time, many unions sometimes negotiates with employers after the end of the strike to at least reimburse for some of the striking days. Apart from the government, this strategy often does not work. Striking workers should do their math carefully – sometimes the loss of income during a prolonged strike may mean that small gains in wage negotiations means that they come out with less in terms of the total year’s salary.
Avoid the No Work No Pay Policy
Sometimes workers get caught out with the “no work no pay” policy and did not even realise that they would face it. The policy is simple and workers need to be prudent when staying away from work. If you were unwell and could not get to work, then ensure you have a sick note from a medical doctor. Call your employer at the start of the work day and inform them that you will not be coming into work. If you are unwell for just a day or so and did not see a doctor then understand the implications of your action. Also ensure that you have sufficient sick leave to utilise or you will face the no work no pay policy.
The same goes for paid leave – you need to apply for it so do not assume that your employer will cover up for the day that you were absent by writing it off against paid leave. The problem in most instances, is that worker’s are ignorant and inconsiderate in their actions. They do not know what leave applies to which situation and they have little concern for how their actions are affecting their employer. It may be the “no work no pay” policy today, a warning letter tomorrow, but eventually it can mean you will be out of a job.