Insightful tips to negotiate a salary increase

You’re a star employee who shines brightly in the company. You meet your deadlines, go above and beyond in your tasks, have good relationships with your colleagues and receive positive appraisals. There isn’t a box that you don’t tick. However, for you, something doesn’t quite add up. You stare at the amount on your payslip, and something doesn’t add up. For quite some time now, you’ve thought that the figure doesn’t accurately reflect the value you add to the organisation and the company growth you contribute to. This means it’s probably time for you to take some initiative and state your case for a pay raise to your employer. And, if you are not quite sure where to start, LAW FOR ALL has some insightful legal advice and tips to help you negotiate a salary increase.

Overview: let’s take a quick look at what the law says about salaries in South Africa

First things first, in South Africa employees’ rights are protected by the Constitution. “More specifically, The Basic Conditions of Employment Act provides rules around the minimum conditions of employment, and this includes some fundamentals regarding salaries,” says Adv. Jackie Nagtegaal, LAW FOR ALL’s Managing Director.

– Payment of Earnings

While you are probably used to getting that wonderful salary notification between the 25th and the end of the month, an employer isn’t legally obligated to pay you in that period. That said, they must pay you within seven days after completing the period for which you are being paid for. An exception here is if a specific date is stipulated in your employment contract or another legally binding agreement. (P.S: legally, you should receive a payslip).

– Salary Deductions  

The general rule is that employers may only deduct PAYE, UIF, amounts required by a Court Order or medical aid and retirement fund contributions. Of course, it’s a different situation if you agreed to a specific deduction in writing.

– Overpayment of Income

In the unlikely event that you suddenly get an extra amount added to your salary due to an error on your employer’s side, you cannot legally keep the additional cash. Your employer is entitled to recover any overpayment.

– Speaking of extra amounts: what does the law say about salary increases?

“With the cost of living constantly increasing, it’s natural to assume your employer will adjust your salary accordingly every year. But, your employer isn’t necessarily obligated to do so,” clarifies Nagtegaal. Take a closer look at your employment contract and keep in mind what the law says about minimum wages in your industry. Your employer is only legally bound to give you a raise if required by a law, your contract stipulates it or if it’s an agreement with a trade union or bargaining council.

Taking the initiative: tips to help you negotiate a salary increase.

Remember, just because a salary increase isn’t automatically guaranteed doesn’t mean there isn’t the chance of getting one. Because employers often have a lot going on, they might not be thinking of giving you a pay bump until you make them aware of your worth and contribution to the company. It’s also vital to make a distinction between the value of the role you occupy and your value as an individual in the company. To build an airtight case that will boost your chances of success, you need to do your research and get your facts straight.

Here are some suggestions and tips to help you negotiate a salary increase:

Tip#1: Do some market research.

To help give you a figure to aspire to, do some reading up on what the market rates are. That involves researching what employees with the same job title and years of experience as you are currently earning. This is a great way to get an objective overview (for employees and employers). You can also reach out to recruiters for feedback and make an online salary comparison on a site such as You want to go into the meeting with an increase you can justify, and that’s based on research and facts, as opposed to emotion or opinion.

Tip#2: Get an understanding of market forces.

To get a better and more holistic understanding of your earning potential, you should look into how market forces, such as the cost of training and replacing and training an employee and the contribution an employee’s role makes to ultimate company profitability.

Tip#3: Get an idea of how the company is performing.

It’s not uncommon for some companies to celebrate their success, whether it’s an internal e-mail talking about achievements or a toast at the year-end function aimed at acknowledging exceeding targets. This will give you an idea of what kind of financial position the company is in. Also, look out for departmental expansion due to more business coming in.

Of course, if there are many retrenchments, for example, then things are clearly not going too well.

Tip#4: Timing is everything.

Your company likely has performance appraisals, so be strategic and time your meeting to discuss and propose a salary increase a few weeks before your assessment. This will give the powers that be time to really consider your request and, hopefully, get back to you during the appraisal. On the other hand, if the company is more inclined to give annual raises, try and find out when the company will finalise its budget for the year so that you can pitch for an increase before that time. This will allow your employer time to work your new cheque into the remuneration budget.

Tip#5: Know your stuff.

Compile a record of what you have achieved and how you excell at the company. This can range from new responsibilities you have taken on to projects you have completed successfully, for instance. If you have exceeded performance expectations, your employer might realise that you are an essential part of the company and be more likely to give a raise so that you stay on board.

Tip#6: Consider other options.

Yes, some extra cash will be significant, but if your employer is not in a financial position to give you a salary increase, consider other forms of compensation. This can be extra leave days, flexible working hours, a company car or a gym membership, for example. Of course, don’t lose sight of the fact that this is the amount you will be living off of, so keep your financial security in mind.

Tip#7: Show a willingness to take on extra duties.

Not only will this show your dedication, but it also makes you come across as reasonable and level-headed. It does make sense for you to get paid more if you actually do more, and that is more likely to resonate with employers than you simply asking for additional cash for carrying out the same duties.

Tip#8: Be realistic.

While it is essential to know your worth, don’t enter the negotiation with a figure you cannot justify. Not only are you unlikely to get the increase, but you might give off the impression that you only care about money (not the best quality!) It certainly helps to know that an average annual salary increase is between 5 to 10%, while a raise based on performance is commonly between 1 and 5%. Discuss a salary increase with your employer, but it might be wise to leave room for your manager to make an offer – it might be more than what you had in mind!

Legal note: You cannot take legal action against your employer for not giving you an increase unless your employment contract stipulates that they are supposed to bump your income.  

A different scenario: the only employee who didn’t receive a salary increase.

There has been a case in which an employee pursued legal action against their employer for not paying an increase, despite all the other employees receiving one. The case relied heavily on Section 186(2)(a) of the Labour Relations Act (LRA), which states that an “Unfair Labour practice” means any unfair act or omission that arises between an employer and an employee involving unfair conduct of the employer…. relating to the provision of benefits to an employee.” In this specific instance, what constitutes a “benefit” came into question.

The Labour Appeal Court ruled that “the distinction that the courts sought to draw between salaries or wages as remuneration and benefits are not laudable but artificial and unsustainable. The definition of remuneration in the Act is wide enough to include wages, salaries and most, if not all, benefits.”

Know your worth when using our tips to negotiating a salary increase.

Ultimately, it is about taking matters into your own hands and confidently stating why you think your employer should consider giving you a salary increase. With the right legal advice and tips to negotiate a salary increase, you will be on your ‘A game’ and positively enhance your chances of getting what you asked for. You want to position yourself as an essential and irreplaceable part of the company. Companies are not only looking for skilled people to fill positions for fair compensation, but also for employees who bring unique value. Moral of the story: keep focusing on developing your skills and value to your employer, and you are more than likely to get that well-deserved pay bump.

We’ve got your back!

LAW FOR ALL policies are pocket-friendly and provide comprehensive legal cover. We can give legal advice on matters relating to salary disputes and referring these cases to the Department of Labour. For more information on how LAW FOR ALL can help you navigate life have a look at our policies here.