Implementing short time – is it legal?

May an employee be placed on ‘short time’? The simple answer is yes, but only where an employee has consented thereto or as an alternative to avoid retrenchment.

The reason is, an employee and employer has entered into an employment contract and has agreed to certain terms and conditions, being in this instance your hours of work and the rate at which you will be remunerated for working those hours. Implementing short time contemplates a change, albeit a temporary change, a change nonetheless, to your employment contract by reducing your working hours and ultimately your rate of remuneration. Whilst a change to the terms and conditions of your employment contract is permitted, it can ONLY be done with your CONSENT, otherwise it constitutes a unilateral change to your employment contract which is unlawful.

For those employees that belong to a union, whenever you are faced with this scenario, inform your union immediately and they will assist you. However, remember that your union is your representative and cannot consent to the Short Time on your behalf unless they consulted with you (and the other members) and received a clear mandate to accept.

With this being said, it is important to realize that Short Time is generally used as an alternative to retrenchments when a company is financial distressed, hoping that cutting costs will turn things around, and where employees do not agree to Short Time it is likely to cause the company to initiate retrenchment proceedings. This could lead to an employer offering you revised employment terms and conditions, should you decline, you could face retrenchment.

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