Atlas Insights: Ugandan Government tables amendment surrounding Occupational Safety and Health Bill, and other updates - March 2024

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Published: 26 Mar 2024

Uganda – Government redrafts former Occupational Safety and Health Act, 2006 to Occupational Safety and Health Bill, 2023 

On the 9th of January 2024, the Ugandan government tabled an amendment to its 2006 Occupational Safety and Health Act to enhance health and safety standards in all workplaces, implementing changes such as teleworking, virtual jobs, as well the outsourcing and subcontracting of labour. The proposed amendment will seek to address rapidly evolving sectors such as telecommunication and the extractive industry. The existing 2006 law was outdated, not reflecting how the increased automation of work has drastically reduced the number of workers required in certain activities. The redrafted bill aims to modernise workplace regulations to better protect employees' well-being.   

Implications for employers: If the Bill is amended, employers will need to implement measures to prevent exposure of persons to noise, dust, vibration, and other hazards in the workplace as recommended by a risk assessment report, as well as establish a committee to develop and implement occupational safety and health workplace policy. 

Hong Kong  - Government to relax "continuous contract” requirement under labour law 

In Hong Kong, to qualify as being employed under a “continuous contract” and be entitled to certain statutory benefits, such as statutory paid sickness days and statutory holidays, an employee must be employed by the same employer for at least four consecutive weeks; and work at least 18 hours in each of those weeks. This is commonly known as the 4-18 rule.  

Hong Kong government announce that 4-18 rule will be relaxed

On the 1st of February 2024, the Hong Kong Government announced that the Labour Advisory Board has reached a consensus that the 4-18 rule will be relaxed. Relaxing this requirement will involve using the aggregate hours worked over four weeks as a counting unit and setting the four-week threshold at 68 hours worked. It is expected that this new 4-68 rule will allow more employees who work shorter hours to be regarded as being engaged under a “continuous contract”. Historically, the 4-18 rule has been criticised for leaving open a loophole for employers to avoid the obligation to provide statutory entitlements to employees, typically by limiting the weekly working hours in one week during each four-week period. 

The proposed arrangement has yet to come into effect. The Government will report to the Legislation Council and an Amendment Bill will be introduced into the Legislative Council for scrutiny upon completion of drafting.  

Implications for employers: The benefits will potentially cover more employees, especially part-time or casual employees, under the proposed arrangement. Employers should keep an eye on the developments of the law and reassess how they structure their workforce as more information emerges.  

South Africa – Annual earnings threshold increases by 5.5% 

Effective 1 April 2024, the earnings threshold, which is determined by the South African Minister of Employment and Labour in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act of 1997 (the BCEA), has been increased to R 254371,67 per year (R 21197,64 per month). This is an increase of 5.5%.

Annual Earnings Increase to 5.5% Per year

‘Earnings’, in this context, means an employee’s regular annual remuneration before the deduction of any income tax, employee benefit scheme contributions and similar payments, but excludes benefit contributions made by employers, payments of allowances such as transportation and food, achievement awards and payments for overtime worked. 

The annual earnings threshold determines the application of certain provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), the Labour Relations Act (LRA), and the Employment Equity Act (EEA). These provisions encompass certain rights such as overtime, Sunday work, public holiday work, night work allowances, averaging of working hours and compressed working weeks, meal intervals and rest periods. 

The previous threshold was R 241110,59 per year. This means that employees who currently earn between R 241110,59 and R 254371,67 per year (and were previously excluded from benefiting from these provisions) now join the ranks of those who are entitled to payment for overtime, double pay for work on public holidays, etc. 

Implications for employers: Employers would be well advised to audit their workforces, suppliers of labour, work practices, policies, and contracts to ensure compliance with legislation, with due regard to the new earnings threshold. 

Current Affairs – New York ban on employer social media inquiries takes effect 

On September 14, 2023, New York Governor, Kathy Hochul, signed Assembly Bill 836. This legislation came into effect on the 12th of March 2024. This prohibits an employer from requesting or requiring that an employee or potential hire disclose any username, password, or other means for accessing a personal account or service through specified electronic communications devices.  

The reasoning behind this law is employers have been using new tools in decisions surrounding the hiring and disciplinary actions regarding prospective and current employees. There have been reports of employers demanding login information, including username and password information to popular social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter as well as login information to email accounts and other extremely personal accounts. This information is being used as a condition of hiring, as well as promotions, lateral movement within companies and in matters relating to disciplinary action including, but not limited to, the dismissal of individuals. This type of request can lead to issues of unfair and discriminatory hiring and practices and be a serious invasion of privacy. 

Implications for employers: The New York law prohibits employers from discharging, disciplining, or otherwise penalising or threatening to penalise employees for refusing to disclose information covered by the law. Employers are prohibited from refusing to hire an applicant because of their refusal to disclose such information. The law does not apply to credentials for employer accounts, accounts “known to an employer to be used for business purposes,” employer accounts accessed on devices furnished by the employer, requests made pursuant to a court order, or employer restrictions on employee access to certain websites. It also does not prohibit employers from viewing, accessing, or utilising information that is publicly available, in the public domain, or voluntarily shared with the employer in connection with an investigation of misconduct. 

The law aims to create a clearer boundary between an individual's professional and personal life online. 

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