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Facing retrenchment? Your rights and how to cope

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As the effects of Covid-19 are felt across all corners of the South African economy, retrenchments are rife in industries across the board. So, how can those who have been affected move on and stand out in a strained job market? HR expert at remuneration and HR consultancy 21st Century, Antoinette Crafford, shares some insights.

**“When you are retrenched, first and foremost, know your rights. The law states that you are entitled to one week’s pay for every completed (ie full) year of service. Some companies do go beyond that, however, on a voluntary basis. In addition to that, the company must also pay for your notice period, in accordance with your employment agreement, your outstanding leave and any outstanding bonuses.

Alternatives

**“Another point that is important to make,” says Crafford, “is it is the right of an employee to seek alternatives to retrenchment. Retrenchment should be the final option, in that the employee and the company should first work together to find an alternative solution. This can include taking annual leave or a temporary lay-off or ‘furloughing’ arrangement – unpaid leaves of absence.

A reduced salary is an option, and inifinitely favourable to having no job at all. This is one of the options that can be negotiated between employer and employees in a crisis such as Covid-19. Picture: Alexander Mils on Unsplash

** “Salary cuts are also an option – and one that many employers have implemented due to Covid-19. While these types of measures may not be ideal, they can be workable alternatives to outright retrenchment. At the end of the day, holding onto a job, even in less than perfect circumstances, can be infinitely preferable to having no job at all. And it is the responsibility of the employer to consult all the possible alternatives with their staff. Ultimately, retrenchment should be a last resort.”

Written agreements are extremely important. A salary cut or temporary leave of absence should never be left open-ended. There should always be a specified time period after which the arrangement will be reviewed. Picture: Adeolu Eletu on Unsplash

Crafford advises: “Written agreements are extremely important in any of these cases. This is such new territory for so many employers that there isn’t really a ‘right’ way to implement these potential alternatives to retrenchment. A salary cut or temporary leave of absence should never be left open-ended. There should always be a specified time period after which the arrangement will be reviewed. Also note, if you agree to take a demotion – ie a ‘smaller’ job instead of retrenchment – any salary cut you agree to take may be permanent as, in essence, your responsibilities have diminished.”

Crafford notes that this is a daunting time to be in the job market. “But the reality is, many South Africans are in the position where they need to find jobs. And in terms of getting started, many people feel demotivated and unhappy following a job loss.” But, she says, getting into the market sooner, rather than later is extremely important. Time is of the essence when you’re getting job applications in. “So, trying to stay positive and proactive despite the disappointment is really important.”

It’s crucial that you stay positive during this difficult time: Picture: Dan on Unsplash

Not all doom and gloom

“While some industries have been very badly affected by Covid-19 – the hospitality and restaurant industries for example – others are picking up. And there is light at the end of the tunnel, even for the most affected industries, as the economy reopens in phases. The technology, IT and some health care industries are doing better than most at the moment. So, it’s not all doom and gloom and it’s so important to try not to be disheartened.”

Making yourself more “employable”, no matter what industry you are in, begins with three important tools:

**Your network – You could even argue that this is more important than your CV. Via your network, word of mouth can be your greatest tool. Friends, colleagues and even family members who have your best interests at heart can tap into their networks, spreading the word that you are looking – ideally creating a word of mouth “domino effect” that will get your message out there.

**A professional CV – Your CV sells you to potential employers and should make them want to meet you for an interview. CVs can differ in varying industries but there are a few standard points that always keep it professional. Your CV should talk to your capabilities rather than what you have done (although those should feature in a secondary capacity). Try to keep your CV “outwardly focused”. In other words, “What are your capabilities and how have those resulted in achievements?”.

**Presentation – Once you have managed to secure an interview, the way you present yourself on the day can make or break it for you. It may sound simple, but make sure you look the part for the job you have applied for. Do your research on the company and ask well-informed questions about what they do, what your daily responsibilities would be, company culture etc.

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Crafford points out: “21st Century has also recently partnered with I Got Hired, which is an innovative global employability and retrenchment platform that provides a ‘job seeker’s dashboard’ that helps make the job-hunting process easier.

“Tools like these can help make more sense of the retrenchment process and many employers and exiting employees are using them to help ‘package’ their job hunting experiences.”

Finally, she says, “Retrenchment is a reality of the economy we are faced with. So, always remember, being retrenched is not a reflection on your abilities; it is a global problem in our current climate. There are many highly qualified and professional people around the world who are facing the same problem. It’s important that you try not to take it personally. Don’t lose heart and don’t lose hope.”

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About 21st Century:
21st Century is one of the largest Remuneration and HR consultancies in Africa, with a team of more than 60 skilled specialists, servicing over 1700 clients – including non-profit organisations, unlisted companies, government, parastatals and more than two thirds of the companies listed on the JSE.

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