Shift work has its own rules

Many employees in South Africa are involved in shift work or night shift operations. Those who work in the mines or in the security industry will be familiar with shift work.

Many employees in South Africa are involved in shift work or night shift operations. Those who work in the mines or in the security industry will be familiar with shift work.

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act, 75 of 1997 regulates normal working hours and overtime.

A normal working week is composed of a maximum of 45 hours of work. This means that the average man's working week will be either five working days of nine hours each, or six working days of eight hours each. Also, a maximum of 10 hours overtime can be worked in any one week, with no more than a total of 12 hours allowed to be worked on any one working day.

But employees must also understand that these regulations apply only to those who earn less than R115527 a year.

While the above regulations apply to the average employee's normal working day, and shift work can be accommodated within the limits of the normal and overtime working hours, night shift work is seen as something different and is, accordingly, regulated differently by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

What is critical for employers of persons who work night shift to be aware of is that section 17 of the Act provides the following requirements for night shift work:

l Night work is any work performed after 6pm and before 6am the next day.

l An employer can only permit or require the employee to work night shift if an agreement is reached with the employee to do so.

l In addition, if shift work is to be undertaken, the employee must be compensated by the payment of a shift allowance, or by the reduction of working hours.

l Transportation must be available from the employee's place of residence and the workplace before and after the shift. That is not to say that the employer must in all instances provide the transport; provided there is adequate public transport this requirement will be satisfied. However, where there is no public transport, the employer may bear the onus to provide transport to the night shift employee.

In addition, if the employee will perform work regularly between 11pm and 6am the next day, the employee must be told about health hazards associated with the work, and may request to undergo a medical examination, at the employer's cost, to determine any health condition which may arise from the night work.

If negative health conditions arise, the employer may be required to transfer the employee to suitable day work.

Night work is an important part of many employee's terms and conditions of employment, especially in activities such as mining and guarding.

Employers are cautioned to ensure that the contracts of employment entered into with employees who will or may be required to perform night work contain the necessary provisions to ensure that employees cannot refuse to perform such work. - Bradley Workman-Davies is a senior associate at Werksmans Attorneys

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