Johannesburg - In the realm of labour dispute resolution, the Labour Court plays a pivotal role in handling grievances stemming from adverse awards issued by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration (CCMA).
Though CCMA awards are generally deemed final and binding, parties aggrieved by a decision made by a commissioner can seek recourse through the Labour Court.
Advocate Tertius Wessel, Legal Director from Strata g Labour Solutions delves into the process of challenging adverse awards, the grounds for review, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, potential risks, and the enforcement of judgments.
“The Labour Court, boasting the same status as the High Court, holds exclusive jurisdiction over most labour matters. While CCMA awards are typically considered final, they can be subject to review by the Labour Court. Section 145 of the Labour Relations Act (LRA) empowers parties to apply for an award setting aside due to alleged defects. The Labour Court's authority extends to granting various remedies such as interim relief, interdicts, specific performance orders, declaratory orders, and awards of compensation or damages,” said Wessel.
Employers or employees aggrieved by an adverse Arbitration Award can file a review application with the Labour Court within six weeks of receiving the award. The grounds for review include allegations of misconduct by the commissioner, gross irregularities during arbitration proceedings, the commissioner's exceeding of powers, and improper acquisition of the award.
The review process adheres to a test defined by the Constitutional Court, which assesses whether the commissioner's decision is one that a reasonable decision-maker could reach based on adequate consideration of the presented facts.
The Labour Relations Act does not allow parties to appeal against arbitration awards. Instead, parties can challenge the awards by filing an application for review or a rescission application in the Labour Court. The review application must be filed within six weeks of receiving the arbitration award, and specific steps, including obtaining a case number and filing the necessary documents, must be followed to proceed with the review process.
“Parties must adhere to strict time limits for filing review applications with the Labour Court. Failure to file within the designated six-week window could lead to the matter being archived. It is essential to initiate the review process promptly to avoid complications and to ensure a timely resolution. The Labour Court considers whether the commissioner's decision was reasonable. It examines whether the principal issue was adequately addressed, if the facts were evaluated, and whether the commissioner arrived at a reasonable conclusion. The court does not readily interfere with an award and carefully assesses the decision-making process,” Wessel said.
Before resorting to the Labour Court, parties can attempt to resolve disputes amicably through negotiations or mediation. Engaging in meaningful discussions may lead to a satisfactory settlement without the need for a formal legal process.
Following a review, the Labour Court can either replace the original award with a new order or refer the matter back to the CCMA for a fresh arbitration hearing with a different commissioner. The court's decision depends on the merits of each case.
“Seeking recourse through the Labour Court can be a time-consuming and costly process. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the court will overturn the CCMA's decision, and parties may be subject to cost orders. For the best chance of success, people seeking to redress labour-related disputes from the CCMA must adhere to proper procedures or use the services of a professional lawyer,” Wessel concluded.