Labour disputes in the age of COVID-19

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought about many changes in the workplace and its effect on the economy has been widespread and detrimental.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought about many changes in the workplace and its effect on the economy has been widespread and detrimental. This has resulted in companies having their agility put to test as they grapple with changes occasioned by this pandemic. The changes that have been brought to bear on companies have been mainly targeted on how they conduct business, in terms of how to quickly adapt and structure the working environment while sticking to fair labour practices. It is trite to highlight that some companies have been forced to downsize operations and, in the process, have resorted to, among others, salary cuts, retrenchments and lay-offs to sustain business operations.

In spite of the changes, organisations still need to ensure that they adhere to the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995, and all other laws that impact the welfare of their employees so as to ensure that they do not expose the company to unnecessary financial risk.  Profit companies (public and private) and non-profit companies are all at risk of being sued by current, past and potential employees, and even the most efficient HR departments may fall victim to inconsistent decision making at the dispute resolution forums. Defending a wrongful termination or discrimination claim whether innocent or guilty, or even if the claim is groundless or frivolous can be expensive and time consuming.

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the employment related financial risk to organisations as employers have to keep up with the changing demands of labour law. This pandemic has caused a lot of panic in the workplace with employers under increased pressure to act and make decisions on unprecedented matters such as:

1.   safeguarding the health of the employees inline with the Occupational Health and Safety Act 75 of 1997,

2.   deciding on what forms of leave apply,

3.   how to deal with a slowdown in business, salary cuts and the impact there-of,

4.   how to tactfully deal with temporary lay-offs, short-time or work from home agreements or policies and avoid legal squabbles with employees thereby safeguarding themselves from financial loss due to employment related disputes that may arise.

Camargue offers an Employment Practices Liability (EPL) policy which provides cover for employers for any damages, awards, settlements, and legal fees following an allegation of unfair labour practice brought about at the Labour Court, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) and through arbitration proceedings.

Camargue’s approach is not only to provide an insurance safety net against labour disputes, but also to provide clients with tools that can both simplify the labour arena, as well as minimise the risks that South African employers face. The Camargue unique M³ approach to insurance is geared towards managing, mitigating, and migrating critical business risks – an outcome achieved through the provision of value-added risk benefits to policyholders. The risk management benefits further enhance the Camargue product offering and go beyond simple insurance.

By virtue of having a Camargue EPL policy, the client automatically unlocks membership access to an employers’ organisation where they get access to labour law advice, representation at the CCMA and Bargaining Council as well as subsidised cost of chairing of disciplinary hearings and other industrial relations matters. This is convenient not only in instances where issues are escalated to organisations such as the CCMA and Labour Court but in also providing policyholders with up-to-date information on the various developments in labour law. Furthermore, aiding employers in making well informed decisions that are compliant to legislative requirements. Camargue’s risk managers will represent the insured at the CCMA resulting in the insured not only saving time and money but also having higher chances of success. Policyholders also have access to 24-hour telephonic advice which can assist employers, especially small to medium enterprises, that do not have human resources or in-house legal departments.

In addition to the above, risk management services also include private arbitration, a less costly and effective method of resolving disputes which also protects organisations from negative publicity by attending to disputes in a professional manner and keeping matters out of the public domain.

Following the financial strain that COVID-19 has had on businesses, some companies may be contemplating company closure, redundancies or lay-offs. While this is generally excluded from cover in terms of standard policies, Camargue’s risk managers will guide the employer on the legal manner in which to proceed with these issues and minimise risk.

COVID-19 has also brought in anew revolution of working from home, therefore employers need to ensure that they have processes, procedures, and policies in place. Camargue’s risk management service providers will be able to assist with the crafting of work from home policies that are in line with changes in labour law.

Suffice to say this is not the new normal, this is now the normal. Organisations should not allow themselves to be gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic panic. Instead, a Camargue EPL policy would ensure peace of mind as it offers protection of the organisation’s relationship with its internal and most valuable customer – its employee.

Click here for more information on Camargue’s EPL policy coverage, visit our Risk Management brochure here.

 

 

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