Question: May an employer increase or decrease agreed working hours of its employees?
Answer: Agreed working hours may only be increased or decreased by agreement between the parties.
Brief explanation: An employer may not unilaterally change agreed terms or conditions of employment. Increasing or decreasing the agreed total number of hours that an employee is required to work, is a change to conditions of employment and has to be negotiated and agreed. To illustrate by means of an example: You have a person who works for you and you have agreed that s/he only needs to work half day (e.g. 4 hours), four days a week. One cannot later insist that she works a full 45 hours per week for the same pay, simply because the law allows 45 ordinary hours of work per week. One would have to negotiate the change with her, during which availability, increase in pay, etc. are discussed. It would be a different matter, however, if the contract of employment makes provision variation of working hours by the employer.
The fact that the parties have to agree to change conditions of employment does not mean that an employer’s hands are tied if employees refuse to agree to a change. Where it is operationally justified (e.g. shortage of work), the employer can follow the retrenchment process if employees refuse to agree to a reduction of their working hours.
Changing certain work practices (rather than conditions of employment) such as starting times and meal intervals, etc., is another matter – these may be changed after reasonable consultation (agreement is not required).
Note: These snippets of information are based on frequently asked questions and will be circulated to subscribers on a regular basis. Labourwise subscribers are invited to submit questions on matters that they believe would be of general interest to employers.
Disclaimer: The material above is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Neither the author nor the publisher accepts responsibility for any loss or damage that may arise from reliance on information contained in this article.