Workplace rebellions can wreak havoc


Workplace rebellion can bring the company to its knees. The most typical form of rebellion known in South Africa is industrial action. Such rebellion can cripple the organisation especially if it lasts for several weeks and if the majority of employees take part.

However, even smaller scale workplace rebellion or defiance can result in costly damage including:

  • Discipline and job losses
  • Damaged management-employee relationships
  • Trade unions being brought into the workplace
  • Reduced morale
  • A strained working atmosphere
  • Demotivation
  • Slowed production output
  • Lack of teamwork and co-operation
  • Poor work performance
  • Unhappy clients
  • Loss of clients and/or loss of orders
  • Retrenchments
  • Material wastage
  • Industrial sabotage
  • Increased accidents and injuries
  • Go slows
  • Outright refusal to obey instructions

There are two basic reasons why employers need to avoid or at least quickly resolve such rebellions:

  • Firstly, the above factors are likely to affect profitability.
  • Secondly, rebellions have the habit of ending up in the CCMA or bargaining counsel. Neither of these are good places for employer to go. Fighting disputes at such tribunals is time wasting, energy sapping, emotionally draining and financially costly.

Where it is shown that the employer had been unreasonable in its treatment of an employee, the employer could lose at arbitration. Also, even if the employee has behaved defiantly the reasons for the employee’s defiance must be considered carefully before the sanction of dismissal is imposed. In the case of Petersen vs Kost Engineering (Pty) Ltd) ( 2000, 9 BALR 1068) the employee was fired for refusing to work. His reason for this gross insubordination was that he was unhappy with his pay. The CCMA found in the employee’s favour due to mitigating circumstances one of which was that he had misconducted himself due to the fact that he believed the employer was not paying him a high enough salary.

Thus, while the law does not give employees the right to disobey instructions the CCMA still found in the employee’s favour. Had it been 50 employees that rebelled this employer would have been in extremely serious trouble. This could mean disaster for the employer especially if the rebels are all reinstated because such reinstated rebels will feel untouchable and could become even more disruptive knowing that they are protected by the CCMA. Therefore, any decision to dismiss such employees should be informed by advice from a reputable labour law expert.

Ivan Israelstam | Chief Executive | Labour Law Management Consulting | mail me |



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