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Unilateral Changes to Terms and Conditions of Employment

 

A complaint that often arises from employees is that the employer has made some or other unilateral change to the original terms and conditions of employment.

 

The change made may be in the form of a sudden reduction in salary for some or other reason, changes to commission structure or a reduction in the amount of commission paid,  the removal of or reduction in some other benefits such as a bonus, or something of that nature. It may also include the sudden unilateral introduction of additional terms and conditions of employment, such as a condition that the salesperson will not be paid his commission until the client has paid for the goods sold.

 

It is possible that some of these unilateral changes could also fall under the heading of unfair labour practice, but that is the subject of another article.

 

It seems that sometimes employers bring about these unilateral changes in an effort to upset the employee to the extent where he will resign, and some of the tactics employed include setting unattainable and unrealistic sales targets, and things of that nature. Employers would do well to remind themselves that any significant variation in the terms and conditions of employment of an employee may well constitute a dismissal in terms of section 186 of the Labour Relations Act.

 

Put differently, by enforcing unilateral changes, the existing contract of employment is effectively terminated, and substituted by a new contract.

 

This does not mean that every unilateral amendment of employment terms and conditions will be seen as a dismissal, but rather that the employer wishes to continue the employment relationship but on altered terms, which have not been agreed to by the employee and where the employer has not consulted with the employee on the changes. Generally, changes to terms and conditions of employment cannot be made without prior consultation with the employee on the proposed changes, and the employee's agreement obtained.

 

This is because of the very simple reason that a Contract of Employment constitutes an agreement between two people, and the one party to the agreement cannot change the terms of that agreement without the consent of the other party. To do so would place the party making the change in breach of contract.

 

What remedies are available to the employee?  Section 64 (4) of the LRA suggests that the employee can refer the dispute to the CCMA or a bargaining council, and the referring party may require the employer not to unilaterally implement the change to the terms and conditions of employment, or, if the employer has already implemented the change unilaterally, the referring party may require the employer to restore the terms and conditions of employment that applied before the change. Therefore, apart from being a "matter of mutual interest", where the remedy available to the employees is to engage in protected strike action, the unilateral variation or change also constitutes a breach of contract.

 

That being the case, the breach of contract constitutes a civil action, and the employees have the right to sue for damages, or sue the employer for due performance - in other words force the employer to comply with the original contract.

 

If the terms and conditions of the original employment contract are to be changed because of changed operational requirements of the employer, it is possible that, upon refusal of the employees to accept the changes, the employer may, under certain circumstances, be entitled to embark on retrenchment procedures. However, that does not mean that it is a simple matter of a refusal of acceptance by the employees, immediately followed by retrenchment of those employees. As in all cases, specific procedures are to be followed.

 

Employers who force unilateral changes in an effort to cause an employee to resign, or who force unilateral changes to try and get an employee to toe the line, are playing with fire. There are specific procedures for addressing such matters.

 

As can be seen, changes to terms and conditions of employment is not a matter to be approached without careful forethought and planning, if the employer wishes to avoid the employees concerned exercising their right in terms of referring a dispute to the CCMA.



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The Protection of Personal Information


By Jan du Toit, Senior Consultant, SA Labour Guide

 

After more than seven years in the making, President Ramaphosa announced last year an effective date of 1 July 2020 for the Protection of Personal Information Act (POPI), Act 4 of 2013. “Responsible Parties” only have approximately 5 months left until 30 June 2021 to become compliant in full.

 

The duration of a typical POPI compliance project will differ from one business to another depending on the nature and size of the business, as well as the Personal Information processed by a Responsible Party. Business owners are therefore advised to, without delay, embark on a compliance project to meet the deadline.

 

Even though the Protection of Personal Information Act is welcomed by most, it has been long overdue and will require business owners (“Responsible Parties” in terms of the Act) to process Personal Information according to 8 processing conditions as set out in the Act.

 

The purpose of the Protection of Personal Information Act is in essence found in the title of the Act; to protect the Personal Information of “Data Subjects”. It gives effect to ones right to privacy as enshrined in the Constitution but also provides balance in terms of the right to privacy weighed up against the right to access to information.

 

The Act regulates the manner in which Personal Information must be processed and provides protection and recourse to those whose rights are infringed. Further to this, the Act makes provision for the establishment of an Information Regulator. Advocate, Pansy Tlakula has already been appointed as the Information Regulator a couple of years ago and has done a great deal of work in establishing her office.

 

Before I get into more detail about the eight processing conditions, it is important to note that the Act is “definitions driven”. It is therefore of utmost importance to first highlight some of the definitions found in the Act for readers to better understand the eight processing conditions.

 

The first definition is that of “Personal Information”. Personal Information is widely defined in the Act and includes, but is not limited to, information relating to an identifiable living natural person or a juristic person (“Data Subjects”), such as:

  • Race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, nationality, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental health, well-being, disability, religion, conscience, believe, culture, language, birth

  • History - education, medical, financial, criminal, employment

  • Identifiers – number, symbols, e-mail address, physical address, telephone numbers, location, online ID or other assignment to a person such as a unique identifier (in example a student or patient number)

  • Biometric information – physical or psychological behavioural characterization, blood type, fingerprints, DNA analysis, retinal scanning, voice recognition

  • Personal opinion views or preferences

  • Correspondence implicitly or explicitly of a private and confidential nature

  • Views or opinions of another individual\

  • The name of the person with other information or the name alone

 

The second definition of importance is that of “processing”. The processing of Personal Information includes but is not limited to any operation/activity or any set of operations, whether automated or not, concerning Personal Information. It includes:

  • Collection / receipt / recording / organizing / collation / storage / updating / modification / retrieval / alteration of Personal Information

  • Dissemination by means of transmission distribution or making available to others.

  • Merging / linking / restricting / degradation / erasure / destruction of Personal Information.

 

A Responsible Party can either be a public body, private body or any other person or persons, domiciled in South Africa and that determines the purpose and means for processing of Personal Information.

 

Throughout the entire lifecycle of Personal Information in any business, eight processing conditions must be adhered to. The eight processing conditions are summarized below:

 

Condition 1 – Accountability. The Responsible Party must always ensure that the conditions set out in Chapter 3 of the Act and all the associated measures are complied with.

 

Condition 2 – Personal Information must be collected and processed lawfully in a reasonable manner that does not infringe the privacy of a Data Subject. The Personal Information may only be processed if it is adequate, relevant, and not excessive.
Personal Information may only be processed if the Data Subject consented thereto. Alternatively, where it is necessary to do so for the conclusion or performance of a contract, an obligation in terms of law, to protect the legitimate interest of the Data Subject, or to pursue a legitimate interest of the Responsible Party.

 

A further requirement is that the Personal Information must be collected directly from the Data Subject.

 

Condition 3 requires that Personal Information must be collected for a specific explicitly defined and lawful purpose related to a function or activity of the Responsible Party. Such Personal Information may not be retained any longer than necessary for achieving the purposes for which the information was collected and/or subsequently processed.

 

Condition 4 prohibits the further processing of Personal Information unless such processing is compatible with the initial purpose of collecting the information.

 

Condition 5 requires that Responsible Parties must take reasonable, practicable steps to ensure that Personal Information is complete, accurate, and not misleading. Such Personal Information must also be kept up to date, taking into consideration the purpose of the Personal Information.

 

The nature and purpose of the Personal Information will dictate as to how often such Personal Information must be updated.

 

Condition 6 addresses some of the rights of Data Subjects, such as the right to be informed by the Responsible Party before information is collected. The purpose of collecting and from where Personal Information will be collected must be disclosed to the Data Subject.

 

A Data Subject is entitled to the details of the Responsible Party and to be made aware of the consequences of not making Personal Information available to the Responsible Party.

 

Should it be required that Personal Information be collected and processed in terms of legislation, the Data Subject must be made aware accordingly.

 

As per Section 72 of the Act, the Data Subject must be advised if Personal Information will be transferred across the borders of South Africa. Under such circumstances the Data Subject is entitled to first be made aware of legislation in other countries that provides adequate protection of the Personal Information. In the absence of legislation, whether there are any binding corporate rules in place, alternatively a written agreement that offers adequate protection for the Data Subject, concluded between the Responsible Party and he third party.

 

Condition 7 requires that Responsible Parties must secure the integrity and confidentiality of Personal Information by taking appropriate reasonable, technical and organisational measures, to prevent loss or unlawful access of Personal Information under the control of a Responsible Party.

 

In this regard the Responsible Party is required to identify all reasonable and foreseeable internal and external risks, and to establish and maintain appropriate safeguards. Compliance with such safeguards must be regularly audited and measures updated if so required.

 

Condition 8 deals with the rights of Data Subjects and participation. In terms of condition 8, Data Subjects have the right to establish whether Personal Information is held by a Responsible Party and to have it corrected or destroyed if it is inaccurate, irrelevant, excessive, out of date, incomplete, misleading, or have been obtained unlawfully.

 

Responsible Parties are also further required to introduce Data Subject rights and participation in their PAIA (Promotion of Access to Information Act) manuals.

 

Responsible Parties are also not permitted to send direct marketing material to Data Subjects without their written consent as per from 4 four of the regulations of the Act.

 

Other important considerations in terms of the Act are that a Responsible Party may be issued with an administrative fine of up to R10 million for its non-compliance with the Act. Additionally, Data Subjects have the right to sue Responsible Parties and under specific circumstances, the Information Officer of the Responsible Party may be imprisoned.

 

Each Responsible Party must register an Information Officer (the head of the organization or a person acting in such capacity) with the Information Regulator. The Information Officer may appoint deputies to assist with ensuring compliance within the business.

 

From the above, it is evident that a POPIA compliance project is not something that should be undertaken without a solid understanding of the Act.

 

Our subscribers, a.k.a. “Responsible Parties”, are invited to attend our online POPIA presentations to better understand the Act and to ensure compliance. In-house training can also be arranged on request.

 

The author of this article is also available to assist employers with compliance projects in the form of awareness sessions, gap analysis, policy development / implementation and staff awareness.

 

For further information pertaining to training, readers are invited to visit www.labourguide.co.za or to contact Jan du Toit at .

 

 

 

 

 

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