As in many other spheres of the commercial environment the influence of the state has also made itself felt through labour legislation in recent years. This has been the case in sectors of the economy where trade unions are particularly active, such as the mining, automotive, metal and textile industries. These, and other, sectors are often in the news because of the fact that they are substantially influenced by the relationship between business owners and the one hand and the trade unions on the other. The position can be especially complicated by the fact that relations between business and labour become strained because of the fact that this relationship is not in harmony. The cause of labour unrest may, of course, be found in various sources. However, it stands to reason that at the root of most labour differences are remuneration and/or work conditions.

In more prominent sectors and in larger businesses the current legislation contains fairly regulated structures by which most of the differences between business and labour may be dealt with. The parties can make use of mechanisms like strikes, lock-outs and structured negotiations. In these circumstances both business and labour have access to readily available expertise, either in house or from outside.

The problem arises lower down in the economic or commercial chain where the business owner [or, of course, the employee] do not have the necessary access to the relevant resources. This is especially true in cases of middle to small business owners who do not have the time or inclination to devote much precious time to personnel management. Also such business owners often begrudge the costs associated with advice regarding personnel matters.

It should, however, be remembered that every employer who employs a worker for more than 24 hours a month is automatically in a service relationship with that employee and that this relationship is, to a large extent, regulated by the same rules and regulations as the labour relations of any large company. Furthermore, to ignore these rules can give rise to punitive costs which may be to the detriment of any employer. The labour legislation is rather complicated and any employer who ventures into this field without any guidance does this at his/her own peril.

The instance where most employers run into problems is the situations where, for some reason or another, the relationship between employer and employee has reached a stage of break down where the end of the relationship is inevitable.

The most common of these situations is where the employer is, rightly or wrongly, of the view that the employee is to be summarily dismissed. Readers will be surprised how many cases end up before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration [CCMA] where the employer paid no regard to any of the prevailing rules. The employer then exposes himself to payment of 12 months’ of the employee’s remuneration in extreme cases. This costs could have been avoided if the employer were aware of the existence of these rules and sought advice before the dismissal.

These rules regulate more than just dismissals. They also regulate, amongst others, the position where an employee’s  work performance is not satisfactory and cases where an employee’s performance is effected by poor health.

From the above it should be clear that business owners must realize the importance of labour legislation and accept the fact that, although these rules may be inhibitive and unpopular, they are, like tax rules, a part of the commercial life.