BY Ivan Israelstam, Chief Executive of Labour Law Management Consulting. He may be contacted on 011 888 7944 or 082 852 2973 or on e-mail address: [email protected].

The Corona virus and the economic lockdown it necessitated have upgraded the already widespread retrenchment malady to ‘epidemic’ levels. Despite the welcome drop from level 5 to a level 4 lockdown and the various economic support measures announced, retrenchments are increasing and will likely continue to do so over the next year and beyond.

Exacerbating the effect of the economic downturn and resultant retrenchments is the fact that the state’s economic support funding is not reaching businesses quickly enough. In the light of increasing workforce cut-backs it is more important now that ever before that employers become aware of the plethora of myths related to retrenchments. That is, too many employers operate erroneously and dangerously according to the following myths:

  1. Retrenchments are the only solution to the employer’s financial problems
  2. Employers are allowed to retrench merely because profits have dropped slightly or are expected to drop slightly
  3. Restructuring exercises automatically allow the employer to retrench
  4. When new technology is introduced into the workplace the employer can immediately retrench those employees who have not been trained in the use of the new technology
  5. The employer has the right to choose whatever criteria it prefers when deciding who to retrench
  6. As long as the employer has a good reasons it can go ahead and retrench whenever it likes
  7. Due to the fact that retrenchments need to be implemented urgently the employer is not obliged to follow retrenchment procedures
  8. The employer is not obliged to find out whether the employees concerned belong to a trade union before beginning retrenchment consultations
  9. Employers only have to consult on the issue of the amount of the retrenchment package
  10. When a company is bought over or two entities merge the resulting rationalisation justifies the retrenchment of superfluous employees
  11. Employers are entitled to decide to retrench employees before consulting with them on reasons why the retrenchments should not take place
  12. Retrenchment is a golden opportunity to get rid of poor performers, bad eggs, trouble makers, pregnant women, elderly employees, members of unfavoured race groups, religions or tribal origins and employees who commit misconduct.

In the case of Janse Van Rensburg vs Super Group Trading (Pty) Ltd (2009, 3 BLLR 201) the employee was retrenched after the employer found itself in financial difficulties. The employer alleged that the employee had been retrenched due to the need for restructuring. However, the Labour Court found that:

  • The employer had chosen the employee for retrenchment before consulting with him on the matter
  • The employer’s real reason for selecting the employee for retrenchment was the fact that it had received complaints from clients about his negative attitude, his lack of interpersonal skills, his disciplinary record and other allegations of misconduct
  • The retrenchment was both procedurally and substantively unfair and the employer was ordered to pay the employee the equivalent of 12 months’ remuneration in compensation.

Having been made aware of the above 12 myths and of the outcome of the Janse Van Rensburg case cited above employers need to:

  • Train their managements as to the do’s and don’ts of retrenchment
  • Use a reputable labour law expert to advise them before embarking on retrenchments and to carry out the necessary management training.

To find out about our video based Corona Response Training KIT for the Workplace please email [email protected] or phone Ivan on 011 888 7944 or 082 852 2973

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