Are trainees also employees?

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When an employer has interns or trainees, such as apprentices, or learners on learnerships, are they defined as employees or not? This week Ivan Israelstam explains how the Labour Relations Act defines an "employee". As Ivan advises always ensure that trainees are treated fairly. We recommend that this article be read in conjunction with the Sectoral Determination on Learnerships available on the Department of Labour website.


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Section 213 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) provides that an employee is anyone, other than an independent contractor who works for another person or who assists in conducting the business of an employer. This definition omits only service providers who are external and/or truly autonomous.
Section 200A of the LRA states that, unless the contrary is proven and regardless of the form of the contract a person is presumed to be an employee if any one of the following circumstances exist:

The manner in which the person works or his/her hours of work is/are subject to the direction or control of another person
The person forms part of the organisation
The person has worked for the other person for an average of at least 40 hours per month for the last 3 months
The person is economically dependent on the other person
The person is provided with tools of trade by the other person
The person only provides services to one person.

This law applies to government, business, welfare, NGO, religious and all other employers except perhaps the Secret Service, National Intelligence Agency and Defence Force.
In Mokone vs Highveld Steel and Vanadium (2005, 12 BALR 1245) the arbitrator found that the applicant had done some work for the respondent while he was completing studies financed by the respondent. Despite this the arbitrator found that the applicant had not been an employee in terms of the LRA and that the Council therefore did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.
However, in the case of Andreanis vs the Department of Health (2006, 5 BALR 461) Ms Andreanis was appointed as an intern at a state hospital. Four years later she was told to vacate her post as her internship period had come to an end. She claimed unfair dismissal as she believed that she was an employee and that the end of her internship was irrelevant to her employment status.
The employer claimed that:

Ms Andreanis was a trainee and not an employee
The CCMA had no jurisdiction to hear a case brought by a non-employee
In any case Ms Andreanis had not been dismissed as her appointment had expired automatically when her internship period expired.

The arbitrator found that:

Ms Andreanis was an employee in terms of the definition in Section 213 of the LRA
She also qualified as an employee in terms of all but one of the seven criteria in section 200A of the LRA
Section 200A gave arbitrators no discretion at all to find that a person was not an employee if any one of the seven criteria in section 200A applied. (This is a puzzling finding as section 200A clearly leaves room for discretion via its proviso “Unless the contrary is proved…”)
The Department of Health had been attempting to hide behind Ms Andreanis’s internship
The dismissal was unfair
The employer was to reinstate the employee with full back pay.

Employers are advised, in the light of the above to ensure that all trainees are treated fairly and to contact a reputable labour law expert should they be unsure whether a worker falls under the protection of the labour law or not.
BY lvan lsraelstam, Chief Executive of Labour Law Management Consulting. He may be contacted on (011) 888-7944 or 0828522973 or via e-mail address: [email protected]. Website: www.labourlawadvice.co.za. This article first appeared in The Star. Edited by the Skills Portal.
To book for our JHB seminar on CHANGES AND DANGERS IN LABOUR CASE LAW on 11 March 2016 please contact Ronni via (011) 0845217492 or [email protected].>

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