What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

Have you ever been at work and thought that you’re doing too much? Or perhaps you’ve looked at the clock and wondered if it’s legal to make someone work for so long. Sadly, some of us have these thoughts about 15 minutes after entering the building. For others, however, it may be a legitimate concern. But how do you know when you’re being overworked? Is there a limit for working hours per week and when can you ask to be paid for overtime? What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

The maximum amount of overtime that may be worked in South Africa is 3 hours per day and 10 hours in one week. The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) provides certain protections for workers including things like a maximum number of work hours. That said, once you pass a certain earnings threshold, you’ll receive only minimal benefits.

People earning below the threshold are entitled to the following protections

  • A maximum ordinary work time of 45 hours per week
  • A maximum of 9 hours per day for those working a 5 day week (or less)
  • A maximum of 8 hours per day for those working more than 5 days a week
What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

Keep in mind, these rules do not mean that an employee must work for 45 hours per week, they simply identify that as the limit.

What is the Earning’s Threshold in South Africa?

The BCEA earning’s threshold is the point under which various working hour regulations come into place. Simply put, individuals earning less than a certain amount per year are fully protected by the BCEA in various scenarios, such as with regard to their maximum work hours per week and the instances in which they can demand payment for overtime.

This is not to say that people above the threshold are completely unprotected, for example, forced labor is still illegal even when you pay someone a huge salary.

The main difference between people above and below the earning’s threshold is the right to either demand or negotiate. The best way to understand this would be to use the example of overtime. Employees who fall under the threshold are able to demand overtime payment at 1.5x their usual wage. Those earning over the threshold only have the right to negotiate their overtime rates which may end up being less than 1.5x their average. 

As of March 1st 2021, the threshold sits at R211 596.30 per annum.

How many Hours of Overtime am I Allowed to put in?

The maximum amount of overtime that may be worked in South Africa is 3 hours per day and 10 hours in one week.

How Much Can I be paid for Overtime work?

What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

As mentioned, if you fall under the earning’s threshold you are entitled to demand payment of 1.5x your average wage rate for overtime.

If you work overtime on a Sunday or on a public holiday, this rate is increased to 2x your average wage. Additionally, time off work may be granted as a substitute for overtime payment, if the employee agrees to this deal. Such a trade uses the same formula.

Those above the earning threshold will have to negotiate their rates for overtime.

When does Overtime begin?

Earlier I noted that the maximum work week stands at 45 hours. Does this mean that overtime only begins to be calculated past this point?

No, overtime begins whenever you work more than your normal work hours. In other words, if your contract states that you are only supposed to work for 42 hours per week and you work an extra 2 hours, you have then worked 2 hours of overtime even though you have not yet completed the maximum of 45 work hours per week.

Can an Employer Force you to Work Overtime?

Generally speaking, your boss cannot force you to work overtime and/or refuse to pay you for overtime worked. That said, contracts are dangerous things and certain agreements may be made that might put you at a disadvantage.

What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

As noted, only individuals under the earnings threshold may demand payment for overtime worked. If however, you find yourself above the threshold, your contract may stipulate that you have to work some overtime per month without pay if the workload demands it. If you agree to such a contract, refusing to work overtime may be viewed as misconduct and you may be penalized or even dismissed.

Always ensure that you thoroughly read through a contract before you sign it and remember to discuss how much overtime you are willing to work and how much you expect to be paid with your employer.

Do Lunch Breaks count as Hours Worked?

No, lunch breaks are considered the unpaid time that belongs to the employee, as such they are not calculated as part of the total work time. This means that an employee may find themselves at their place of work for an excess of 45 hours per week though they are not working overtime as the lunch breaks may add to the total time without actually being considered work.

A standard lunch break is 1 hour long although contracts may shorten this time to as little as 30mins. Lunch breaks must be made available after 5 hours of continuous work.

Contracts can also be formed to withhold lunch breaks if the employee works for less than 6 hours per day.

What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

Can you be Asked to Work During a Lunch Break? – What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

An employer may require an employee to work during their lunch break if their position cannot be left unattended or if there is not another individual that can take their place. That said, the employee must then be compensated for said work.

How does Maternity Leave work in South Africa? – What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

When it comes to giving birth, mothers in South Africa are entitled to 4 consecutive months of maternity leave once their child is born, although this leave can begin up to 1 month before the baby is born if it is required.

Maternity leave in South Africa is unpaid but mothers may claim via the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for a portion of their salary.

Employees who are pregnant or employees who are nursing a child are not allowed to perform work that could pose a danger to the mother or child.

How does Paternity Leave work in South Africa?

Recent legislation has made provisions for up to 10 days of consecutive leave for parents of newborn children. Once again this leave is unpaid though the parent may make claims via the UIF.

Parents should submit written notice of their intent to take such leave up to one calendar month before the fact. That said, certain circumstances may make this impossible such as in the instance of a premature birth.

What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

In Conclusion – What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

Before considering the regulations of working hours in your particular job, it is important to first identify where you stand in terms of the BCEA Earning’s Threshold. The threshold currently stands at R211 596.30 per annum.

If you fall under this threshold you are entitled to various protections such as –

  • A maximum ordinary work time of 45 hours per week
  • A maximum of 9 hours per day for those working a 5 day week (or less)
  • A maximum of 8 hours per day for those working more than 5 days a week

Additionally, such persons may also demand to be paid for overtime work at a rate of 1.5x their usual wage or at 2x their usual wage if the overtime was done on a Sunday or on a public holiday.

The maximum overtime that is allowed is 3 hours per day and 10 hours per week.

What is the Law on Working Hours in South Africa?

But what happens to those earning over the threshold? These individuals still have basic protections, for instance, provisions are still made against things like forced labour or intimidation in the workplace, however, these earners will not be able to demand things like overtime payment at the aforementioned rates and must instead negotiate such topics with their employers.

In some scenarios, high earners may be expected to work overtime without pay, if this sort of thing was agreed to in a contract the employee may be penalised for misconduct if he/she refuses to do the work.

Lunch breaks do not count towards work hours and are unpaid. On the other hand, employees are entitled to maternity and paternity leave respectively which is also unpaid though claims may be made through the UIF.

Disclaimer LAW101: All of our posts are for research purposes only. Law 101 aims to assist its readers with useful information on the laws of our country that can guide you to make decisions in line with the South African Governmental Laws currently in place. Although our posts cite the constitution in many instances, they are intended to assist readers who are looking to expand their knowledge of the law. Should you require specific legal advice we advise you to get in touch with a qualified legal expert.

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  1. August 16, 2021

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