Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

National and provincial government departments have shown a "hostile" contempt for labour courts and arbitration bodies in the past four years as a quarter of all arbitration awards issued against them were not complied with.

This is according to a new report by the Public Service Commission into non-compliance by departments to awards where they were found to have treated employees unfairly.

Public Service Commissioner (PSC) Moira Marais-Martin said during a briefing in Pretoria on Thursday that while the scale of non-implementation was "not huge" there was an increase in costs because of litigation in terms of compensation for successful applicants.

Marais-Martin said that despite the fact that employees had the right to challenge unfair labour practices and pursue recourse through the Labour Court and other arbitration, government departments often displayed "an unhealthy level of hostility" towards aggrieved employees.

No one is held accountable for the financial losses incurred by affected departments. Accounting officers must ensure that employees and bar councils are supplied with legal documentation
Moira Marais-Martin

The PSC report said that government departments incurred arbitration awards of R166m between 2013 and 2016 and R94m in compensation costs. However, she said, many departments did not comply with arbitration orders, which drove costs even higher for departments.

"If there is nonimplementation then interest is incurred. Once the PSC completed the study we found that some department could spend as much as R1.8m on interest for delaying to pay the amounts due," said Marais-Martin.

The PSC recommends, among other things, that government develops an "overarching policy framework to assist where awards are allocated" so that they do not contravene any of the prescripts of labour law.

"No one is held accountable for the financial losses incurred by affected departments. Accounting officers must ensure that employees and bar councils are supplied with legal documentation," said Marais-Martin.

Public Service Commissioner Michael Seloane said while arbitration was common in cases of work disputes, internal arbitration was encouraged.

"Many of the complaints we get can be dealt with through the work of offices such as the public protector. It is often that there will be resolved there before they get to us. Cases affecting entities will be referred to departments and those affecting municipalities will be referred to those municipalities," said Seloane.

"Public Administration Management Act has not yet been promulgated. What has happened is the minister of public service and administration amended the code of conduct to bar officials conducting business with the state. This means it constitutes misconduct but according to the PAM Act it is a criminal offence, but for now it is just misconduct," he said.

She said the report would be sent to the Department of Public Service and Administration for further consultation and discussion.

magubanek@businesslive.co.za

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