Chaos at CCMA places everyone under pressure
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The Covid-19 pandemic has affected employment conditions around the world. Only certain jobs were created, and many alternative positions were reworked to enable the creation of a virtual employment situation.
We are at least at a 40% unemployment level, which is the highest in the world, and within the youth category, two out of every three youths were unable to find employment.
This situation is not getting better and does seem to be exacerbated by some of the harsh regulatory environment. It is the duty of every government to ensure there is a structure to protect employees, but on the other hand, there must be a conducive structure to create jobs. In South Africa, we seem to be failing on both counts.
Firstly, it must be said that our legislation outlining the various protections for employees is comprehensive and should be sufficient. Unfortunately, the Inspectorate from the Department of Employment and Labour are under-resourced and, certainly, their numbers are unable to cope at all. Dozens of examples can be given daily where complaints are not investigated and/or ignored. It is extremely easy for unscrupulous employers to break the labour legislation and get away with it.
Even the trade union movement is under enormous pressure to try to enhance their service delivery to members. I strongly believe that the trade unions themselves are finding the environment almost impossible to cope with. I hear daily from shop stewards who do not get help from the union and do not get the necessary training and/or tools to attend to complaints. Over and above this, employees are scared to raise a complaint or even write an anonymous letter to the department for fear of losing their job. Many know that if they lose their job, they will probably never get another. This situation has been abused by many employers (not all).
The one institution within the department, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), is also under enormous pressure. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, their budget is being cut to the bone. The CCMA management has been stretched, and the administration is desperately trying to keep up with the number of referrals and complaints. By rights, they should be extending the administration and the management. The CCMA, it has been said, is a world-class institution that is being denuded of all its strength daily.
A lot has been said about the destruction of the service delivery because there has been little to no money for the part-time commissioners who are the ones that effectively do most of the arbitrations at the CCMA. Although there are a few of these arbitrations coming to the fore, their numbers must be radically down from 2019.
I know some of the unions have raised their voices about the situation, but one would think there would be a much bigger reaction from the trade union movement as it is their members who are suffering the most. The delays are dangerous, leaving many employees with the feeling that they might have to take the law into their own hands. Over and above this, employers are also nervous as they might face harsher paybacks to an employee who might have been unfairly dismissed.
If the arbitration in 2021 is only heard six months later, this creates a real problem in that the arbitration award of reinstatement would mean at least six months’ payment and then the reinstatement of the employee.
I hear many employers telling me they do not mind if the CCMA is destroyed as that would mean there is no watchdog. That statement is incorrect and it should be known that the watchdog is still there and still able to perform its duties even if they are running months behind.
* Michael Bagraim is a labour lawyer. He can be contacted at [email protected]
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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