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The Commission for Conciliation, Arbitration and Mediation (CCMA) expects its caseload to increase by up to 15% as a result of national minimum wage-related disputes.

The CCMA is a labour department entity responsible for dispute resolution between employees and employers. 

Affected workers will be able to refer disputes for claims arising from the minimum wage act that was phased in from January 1 at a R20 hourly rate, as well as outstanding monies in terms of the amendments to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.

Concern has been raised about the CCMA’s capacity to handle the expected rise in caseload due to the national minimum wage.

Employees earning below the ministerial threshold of R205,433.30 per year will be able to refer their national minimum wage complaints directly to the CCMA, while other noncompliance disputes will be referred to the body by labour inspectors.

The CCMA said it received 186,902 dispute referrals in the 2017-2018 financial year, indicating a 1% decrease on the previous year.

A total of 154,000 cases were heard.

Among these, 72% concerned cases of alleged unfair dismissals, 11% for unfair labour practice, 3% over mutual interest.

However, the expectation was that this would increase significantly. “At the start of 2018-2019 it was estimated that the CCMA’s normal caseload would increase 5% and that an increase of a further 15% could be expected through the new jurisdiction,”  director Cameron Morajane said.

According to the department of labour, the body has also received an additional R108m from the treasury for the period 2019-2022 for the handling of cases related to the new wage dispensation.

Morajane said they would be assessing the organisation’s capacity periodically to determine if additional funding would be required.

In the meantime, a national recruitment drive for additional commissioners is ongoing, while existing commissioners and staff have received training, and the CCMA case management system has been aligned with the changes in law.

The labour department has also confirmed it was in the process of employing more inspectors to boost its 1,600 person headcount, with 60% of the total number of inspectors expected to handle enforcement of national minimum wage.

Labour inspectors are the only officials empowered by the basic conditions of employment act to enter workplaces and inquire about conditions of work.

Although the department has been criticised for its lack of capacity with regard to labour law enforcement, labour minister Mildred Oliphant's spokesperson, Sithembele Tshwete, told Business Day that rigorous training had been undertaken to ensure there were no lapses in the application of the minimum wage law.

On Wednesday, parliament’s labour committee began the process to introduce an amendment bill to correct an error in the national minimum wage law that compromised workers who sought to challenge noncompliant employers.

In the act, a May 1 2017 “retrospective” implementation of a section that states it is “unfair labour practice for an employer to unilaterally alter wages, hours of work or other conditions of employment in connection with the implementation of the national minimum wage” ended up being cross-referenced to the wrong clause.

Oliphant has also released the regulations that set the conditions for exemptions for minimum wage. Those detail circumstances under which qualifying employers could pay as little as R18 per hour. 

According to the regulations, employers would have to prove that they could not afford to pay workers the actual rate due to insufficient profitability and assets among others, before being granted exemptions.

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