The winds of change are blowing through the South African business sector. This is according to Aadil Patel, National Head of the Employment practice at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, who was speaking at the firm’s annual employment conference, held this week in conjunction with its exclusive alliance partners, DLA Piper and DLA Piper Africa.

Patel said that this year, South Africa had witnessed the longest industrial action within the mining sector. In addition, a raft of new employment laws were in the process of being enacted in South Africa.

“South African businesses have been introduced to concepts such as equal pay and the sensitive regulation of labour broking. Businesses are moving beyond our borders into the continent of Africa  and are thus looking for specialist employment law skills in many African jurisdictions, often simultaneously. The demand for  legal services has become more sophisticated and wide-reaching and employment law specialists are having to offer more proactive, pan-African advice and services, as well as thought leading information and research, in order to aid businesses in the understanding and application of  employment laws in different countries,” he said. 

Tim Marshall, Partner and International Group Head of DLA Piper, said at the seminar that in terms of global employment and business trends, Whistleblowing was a big issue in many countries and the global DLA Piper response to this trend included the compilation of a global research report entitled Whistleblowing – An employer’s guide to global compliance.

The global team collected intelligence and market analysis across 10 countries, including South Africa,  that included key legislative provisions regulating whistleblowing. The report examined the reasons for some of the key differences between the legal regimes including major differences in cultural attitudes. For example,  in the United States whistleblowers are heroes, in France they are often considered villains.

“The bottom line is that employers need to take whistleblowers seriously –  the approach must take into account local issues - exporting home country thinking won't work when the types of misconduct and cultural attitudes can be so different,” he said.

Marshall said another global employment law trend was that, with regards to protecting confidential information, employers around the world were failing to recognise that this confidential information was a unique business asset.                   

“Employers need to take a multi-strand approach to protecting confidential information,” he said. “Advances in technology and the growth of social media pose a risk to corporate secrets and ultimately, survival of their business.”

Marshall said that in 2015, the DLA Piper Global Employment team would issue a report entitled - the Global Employee Representation Landscape: The role and influence of trade unions, domestic and European works councils and other employee representative bodies, and the impact of globalisation on labour relations. Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr will contribute the South African chapter of this report.