Labour and employment law leaves many employers with the mistaken belief that they have very few rights in the face of increasing trade union power and influence which is not only felt at the workplace, but also seen in strong alliances between trade union federations and the ruling political party.
There are of course employers who do know their rights in the most minute of detail, and exercise them accordingly, occasionally in a way which is unscrupulous and only serves to prompt conflict and rancour.
But on the whole, very many employers are totally unaware of their rights and are consumed by a sense of helplessness when dealing with labour and employment matters. It is not uncommon to hearing employers make claims like “you can’t discipline let alone dismiss anyone these days”.
Is it a true perception? Are employers at a disadvantage in the employment/labour relationship?
By and large, employers believe they are at a disadvantage in labour/employment matters because they do not know or understand their rights, not because they don’t exist. Furthermore, employers often incorrectly assume that good or bad industrial relations is a function of legislation and the rights which do or don’t exist in these laws. This is understandable given the regrettably high focus that law is given in labour matters. The essence of good industrial relations never has been and never will be a function of good or bad law, or good or bad lawyers; good battles maybe, but not good industrial relations.
Employers and managers need to become acquainted with, or obtain professional industrial relations advice and expertise on, their rights in the arena of labour and employment matters.
It is equally unacceptable to have workplace justice undermined by unknowledgeable employers as it is to be undermined by unknowledgeable employees.
Close scrutiny of the LRA clearly shows that employers enjoy very many rights, and have access to equal levels of protection as employees. This may not necessarily, for example, be the opinion of those critics of the LRA who quote the fact that temporary replacement labour cannot be used in the case of offensive lockouts. Legally this may be true, but practically, employers virtually never institute offensive lockouts anyway.
Employers and managers need to recognise the fact that they do have substantial rights, and that the evolving cluster of labour laws does and will continue to reflect this, whilst attempting to address past discrimination against employees.
At the end of the day, it is a lack of awareness of employer rights that often leads employers to perceive that they are in a position of weakness. Armed with the correct knowledge and advice, employers can ensure that their interests and rights are protected in ways which promote fairness to employers and not only employees and trade unions.
Follow Tony on Twitter at @tony_healy