Understanding the functions of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration

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I have a dispute which has been referred to the CCMA. How does the process work?

The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (“CCMA”) is a state-funded institution which acts as the centrepiece of the statutory dispute resolution system in the employment sphere. The CCMA, however, operates independently from the state.

A dispute is referred to the CCMA within 30 days of the date when the dispute arose. When a dispute is referred to the CCMA, the first step in the process is that the Commissioner (the objective party presiding over the matter), who will act as a conciliator, assists the parties to reach a mutually agreed upon outcome. The conciliator cannot make any binding determinations during this process. Therefore, there is no obligation on the parties to accept the suggestions of the conciliator. What is also important to note is that the proceedings are confidential and conducted on a “without prejudice” basis, therefore, whatever is said during the said proceedings cannot be used against either party later in the process. Conciliation is not defined in the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (“LRA”), however, in practice, the Commissioners tend to make use of mediation, conducting a fact-finding exercise, subsequently making a recommendation to the parties, which is regarded as an advisory arbitration award.

After conciliation has failed, the Commissioner will issue a certificate stating that the dispute remains unresolved after conciliation proceedings have been conducted (certificate of outcome). The referring party will then have the option to refer the matter to arbitration by completing an LRA Form 7.13 and serving it on all the relevant parties, including the CCMA, within 90 days after the date on which the certificate of outcome was issued. The director of the CCMA may direct that the parties conduct a pre-arbitration conference. The purpose of the said conference is so that the parties can simplify the matter and clearly define what the dispute is.

Arbitration is essentially a hearing based on the merits of the dispute. The arbitrator will give all the parties an opportunity to prove and argue their case. After the arbitrator has heard the parties’ cases, the arbitrator must make a finding, which any reasonable decision-maker could come to based on the available evidence. Reasons for the arbitrator’s decision may be provided. The arbitrator’s decision is final and binding on the parties, subject to a review application in the Labour Court. The arbitrator may also make an order as to costs in accordance with the CCMA rules.

It should also be noted that in 2002, amendments to the LRA were introduced, which also provide for what is now known as “con-arb”. What this entails is that the Commissioner will have to commence arbitration immediately after conciliation was found to be unsuccessful. However, a party to the proceedings may object to con-arb, whereafter the procedure as discussed above will then follow in the alternative.

When a dispute is referred to the CCMA, the first step in the process is that the Commissioner will attempt to settle the matter by way of conciliation which might include mediation, conducting a fact-finding exercise, subsequently making a recommendation to the parties, which is regarded as an advisory arbitration award. When the dispute remains unresolved, the matter will then be finalised on arbitration.

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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)