Basic Conditions of Employment: Working Hours


  • No worker may be retaliated against for demanding the rights set out in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act
  • Senior managers, traveling sales staff, and those that work under 24 hours per month excluded, employees may not work for more than 12 hours of overtime each week
  • An extended weekend may be arranged by way of a compressed work week of no more than 12 hours per day
  • Any employee agreeing to work an 11pm to 6am shift must be debriefed on the health and safety risks, as well as compensated for regular medical examinations
  • Employer may not take annual leave hours away from employees while they are enjoying  special leave privileges such as maternity or sick leave 
  • Family responsibility leave may be taken on account of the birth or sickness of a child, or the death of a spouse, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling
  • Deductions may only be made from an employee’s pay if they are agreed to in writing and are either a legal requirement, or part of a collective agreement, arbitration award or court order.
  • Four weeks notice must be provided employees of more than one year before termination of their labor contract
  • Employees must be permitted to challenge their dismissals on the basis of established labor policy
  • Collective agreements via the Bargaining Council may differ from the Act as long as worker protection is not reduced as regards health, safety, or family responsibilities
  • In addition to investigating complaints, Labor Inspectors must notify employees of their rights and responsibilities

Your Rights

The Basic Conditions of Employment Act applies to all employees and employers in South Africa except those who work for the National Defence Force and Intelligence Agencies, on vessels at sea and unpaid volunteers working for charities.

The Act does not cover:

  • Probationary periods; right of entry to the employers premises;  afternoons and weekends off; pension schemes; training or school fees; funeral benefits and savings accounts. However, all of these can be negotiated and included in an employment contract.
  • There is also no provision which prevents any other conditions of employment being included in a contract but any provision that sets conditions which are less favourable than those set by the Act, will be considered INVALID.

Working Hours

This section doesn’t apply to senior managers (those who can hire, discipline and fire), sales staff who travel and workers who work less than 24 hours a month.

Normal or Ordinary hours of work

An employer may NOT require an employee to work more than:-

  • 45 hours in any week; and
  • 9 hours in any day if the employee works for 5 days or fewer in a week; or
  • 8 hours in any day if the employee works on more than five days in a week.


Overtime is the time worked over and above normal daily hours. An employer may not require or permit an employee to work more than three hours overtime a day or ten hours of overtime a week except in accordance with an agreement. And even if there is an agreement, an employee may not work more than 12 hours of overtime in any one week.

An employer must pay an employee at least one and one-half times the employee’s wage for any overtime worked. However, an employer may choose to rather give the employee time off instead.

  • 30 minutes off for every hour of overtime worked + normal hourly wages OR;
  • 90 minutes off for every hour of overtime worked + no additional wages.

An employer must allow the employee time off for the extra hours worked within a month of the overtime. An employee and employer may extend one month to 12 months where there is an agreement between the employer and employee.

More flexibility of working time can also be negotiated if there is a collective agreement with a registered trade union.

  • Compressed working week: You may agree to work up to 12 hours in a day and work fewer days in a week. This can help working mothers and migrant workers by having a longer weekend.
  • Averaging: the ordinary hours of work and overtime may be averaged over a period of up to four months in terms of a collective agreement. A worker who is bound by such an agreement cannot work more than an average of 45 ordinary hours a week and an average of five hours of overtime a week over the agreed period. A collective agreement for averaging has to be re-negotiated each year.

Meal breaks and rest periods

An employer must give an employee who works continuously for more than five hours a meal interval of at least one continuous hour. The meal break must be granted unless there is no-one else who can do your job or it is an inherent requirement of your job that you are there. 

The meal break may be reduced to not less than 30 minutes but only if agreed in writing. If you work less than 6 hours on a day, you are NOT entitled to a meal break.

Daily and weekly rest periods

An employee is entitled to rest for 12 hours between ending work on one day and starting again the next day. They must also get a weekly rest of at least 36 consecutive hours including Sundays, unless otherwise agreed.

When an employee lives at his or her place of work or has a meal break of up to 3 hours, the rest period can be cut to 10 hours (instead of 12 hours a day) by written agreement.

Pay for work on Sundays

  • An employer must pay an employee who works on a Sunday double wages for each hour worked, unless the employee ordinarily works on a Sunday. In this case, the employer must pay at one and one-half times their wages for each hour worked;
  • If an employee works less than their ordinary shift on a Sunday and the payment they are entitled to is less than their ordinary daily wage, the employer must pay the employee’s ordinary daily wage instead;
  • An agreement may allow an employer to grant an employee who works on a Sunday paid time off equivalent to the difference in value between the pay they would receive for working on the Sunday and the pay they would be entitled to in terms of the above provisions.

Night work

Night work is considered any work done after 6pm and before 6am the next day.

An employer may only ask an employee to perform night work by agreement. The employee must be compensated by the payment of an allowance (which may be a shift allowance) or by a reduction in working hours. Transport must also be available or provided between the employee’s home and the workplace at the beginning and end of the shift.

If an employee is required to work from 11pm to 6am every day, the employer must inform the employee of the health and safety risks. The employee is entitled to regular medical examination, paid for by the employer and must be moved to a day shift if the night work develops into a health problem. All medical examinations must be kept confidential.

Public holidays and Payment

An employee does not have to work on a public holiday unless they want too but they must be paid for any public holiday that falls on a working day. Any work agreed to on a public holiday must be paid at double the normal rate.

REMEMBER! It is the responsibility of the employer to regulate the working hours of employees. In doing so, they must take the health and safety of the employee into consideration as well as his or her family responsibilities.