Category Archives: Trade

Is ‘n handelsbeperkingsklousule altyd geldig en afdwingbaar?

A2_BIn die verlede was handelsbeperkingsooreenkomste ongeldig en onafdwingbaar, tensy die werkgewer kon bewys dat die ooreenkoms billik is. Gelukkig vir werkgewers het hierdie situasie verander.

Wat is ‘n handelsbeperking?

‘n Ooreenkoms wat ‘n party se reg om te handel of ‘n besigheid of beroep te bedryf, beperk op sodanige manier of met sodanige partye as wat hy/sy goeddink, is ‘n handelsbeperking.

‘n Werkgewer sal tipies in die dienskontrak of ‘n aparte ooreenkoms ‘n handelsbeperkingsklousule insluit wat gewoonlik van krag word wanneer die kontrak getermineer of die besigheid of praktyk verkoop word.

Hoekom is hierdie tipe klousule omstrede?

Dit is omstrede omdat daar ‘n botsing van fundamentele waardes is: aan die een kant is daar ‘n algemene kontrakteursvryheid wat daarop staatmaak dat partye by hul kontrakte gehou moet word, en aan die ander kant is daar handelsvryheid wat ‘n erkende reg volgens die grondwet is.

Soos ander ooreenkomste is handelsbeperkings prima facie geldig en afdwingbaar. Voorheen het die werkgewer die bewyslas gehad om te bewys dat die implementering van die handelsbeperkingsklousule billik en in openbare belang is. Die situasie is nou omgekeerd en die werknemer het nou die bewyslas om te bewys dat afdwinging van die beperking teen openbare belang sal indruis.

‘n Onredelike beperking sal teen die openbare belang wees en dus onafdwingbaar. Die redelikheid van ‘n handelsbeperkingsklousule word beoordeel op die basis van breë belange van die gemeenskap en die belange van die individu self.

Redelikheid inter partes hang van verskeie faktore af:

  • Het die werkgewer ‘n beskermingswaardige belang?
  • Geografiese omvang en tydperk van die handelsbeperking (moontlikheid van gedeeltelike afdwinging)
  • Toegewing deur die werknemer in die kontrak dat die beperking redelik is, en ongelyke bedingingsvermoë van die verskillende partye (hierdie faktore dra min gewig)

Voorbeelde van beskermingswaardige belange is vertroulike inligting, handelsgeheime, kliëntverhoudings en -lyste, en die welwillendheid van die besigheid. Dit sluit egter nie planne om die kompetisie te elimineer en die belegging van tyd en kapitaal in die opleiding van die werknemer in nie.

Dit is nie genoeg dat vertroulike inligting net as sulks beskou word nie. Vir inligting om as vertroulik beskou te word, moet dit kommersieel nuttig wees, met ander woorde dit moet toegepas kan word in die industrie, ekonomiese waarde hê vir die persoon wat dit wil beskerm, en slegs bekend wees aan ‘n beperkte aantal persone.

Die bewys van handelsverbintenisse sal slegs relevant wees indien die werknemer toegang het tot die werkgewer se kliënte en sodanige verhouding met die werkgewer se kliënte het dat dit hom/haar in staat sou stel om so ‘n invloed oor hulle te hê dat die kliënte hom/haar sal volg indien hy/sy die diens van die werkgewer verlaat. Die volgende faktore is hier van belang:

  • die pligte van die werknemer;
  • die persoonlikheid van die werknemer;
  • die frekwensie en tydsduur van die werknemer se kontak met die kliënte;
  • sy/haar invloed or die kliënte;
  • aard van sy/haar verhouding met die klënte (mate van aanhang, omvang van hul vertroue in hom/haar);
  • vlak van kompetisie tussen die mededingende besighede;
  • die tipe produk wat verkoop word; en
  • bewyse dat kliënte verloor is as gevolg van die werknemer se vertrek.

Met verwysing tot die bogenoemde moet die volgende vrae gevra word:

1. Is daar ‘n belang van party A wat waardig is om beskerm te word?

2. Word daardie belang benadeel deur party B?

3. Indien wel, weeg die belang van party A kwalitatief en kwantitatief meer teenoor die belang van party B, wat sal inhou dat daardie party ekonomies onaktief en onproduktief sal wees?

4. Is daar enige openbare beleid wat vereis dat die handelsbeperking gehandhaaf of van die hand gewys word?

Al is die handelingsbeperkingsooreenkoms billik inter partes, mag dit nog steeds beslis word dat dit nie in openbare belang afgedwing moet word nie.

Bronnelys:

Basson v Chilwan & Others 1993 (3) SA 742 (A)

Sunshine Records (Pty) Ltd v Flohing & Others 1990 (4) SA 782 (A)

Magna Alloys & Research (SA) (Pty) Ltd v Ellis 1984 (4) SA 874 (A)

Hierdie is ‘n algemene inligtingstuk en moet gevolglik nie as regs- of ander professionele advies benut word nie. Geen aanspreeklikheid kan aanvaar word vir enige foute of weglatings of enige skade of verlies wat volg uit die gebruik van enige inligting hierin vervat nie. Kontak altyd u regsadviseur vir spesifieke en toegepaste advies. (E&OE)

Are restraint of trade agreements always valid and enforceable?

A2_BHistorically restraint of trade agreements were void and unenforceable unless the employer could prove that it was a reasonable agreement entered into between the parties. Fortunately for employers the position in our law has changed.

What are restraint of trade agreements?

 An agreement that seeks to restrict a party’s right to carry on a trade, business or profession in such manner or with such persons as he/she sees fit, is restraint of trade.

Restraint of trade clauses are most commonly found in employment and partnership contracts, which usually takes effect after termination of the contract, or in sale of a business or practice.

Why are they controversial?

They are controversial because there is a clash of fundamental values: on the one hand there is freedom or sanctity of contract which relies on agreements being honoured, and on the other hand there is freedom of trade which is a constitutionally recognised right.

As with other contracts, restraint of trade agreements are presumed to be prima facie valid and enforceable. Whereas the onus had earlier been on the employer to prove that implementation of restraint of trade was fair and in public interest, the onus is now on the employee to show why enforcement in the particular circumstances would be against the public interest.

An unreasonable restraint is contrary to the public interest and hence unenforceable. The reasonableness of a restraint of trade clause or agreement is judged on two bases: broad interests of community, and interests of the parties themselves.

Reasonableness inter partes depends on a variety of factors:

  • Does the employer have a protectable interest?
  • Area and duration of restraint (possibility of partial enforcement)
  • Concession by the employee in the contract that restraint is reasonable, and inequality of bargaining power of parties (these factors carry little weight)

Examples of protectable interests are confidential information, trade secrets, customer connections and lists, and goodwill of the business. However, it does not include interest in the elimination of competition, and the investment of time and capital in the training of the employee.

It is not sufficient simply to label confidential information as such. In order to be confidential the information must be commercially useful, in other words capable of application in trade or industry, have economic value to the person seeking to protect it, and be known only to a restricted number of people.

With regards to trade connections, it will only be relevant when the employee has close working relations with the customers, to such an extent that there is a danger of him/her taking them with him/her when he/she leaves the business. Relevant factors here include the following:

  • duties of the employee;
  • his/her personality;
  • frequency and duration of the contact with the customers;
  • his/her influence over them;
  • nature of his/her relationship with them (degree of attachment, extent of their reliance on him/her);
  • level of competition between the rival businesses;
  • type of product sold; and
  • evidence that customers were lost when he/she left the business.

With reference to the above the following questions must be asked:

1. Does party A have an interest deserving of protection?

2. Is such interest being prejudiced by party B?

3. If so, how does A’s interest weigh up qualitatively and quantitatively against B’s interest in not being economically inactive and unproductive?

4. Is there some broader facet of public policy that requires the enforcement or rejection of the restraint?

If restraint of trade agreement is reasonable inter partes, it may still be unenforceable if it is damaging to the public interest for a reason not peculiar to the parties.

Sources:

Basson v Chilwan & Others [1993] 3 SA 742

Sunshine Records (Pty) Ltd v Flohing & Others 1990 (4) SA 782 (A)

Magna Alloys & Research (SA) (Pty) Ltd v Ellis 1984 (4) SA 874 (A)

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)