Thulas Nxesi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Thulas Nxesi. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The body tasked with resolving labour disputes has been inundated with applications for the retrenchment of workers as the Covid-19 lockdown takes its toll on businesses.

Treasury has estimated that between 3-million and 7-million workers could lose their jobs, depending on the trajectory of the lockdown and the recovery of the economy.

The large-scale applications already before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) were likely to be the tip of the iceberg, employment & labour minister Thulas Nxesi said Tuesday.

He made opening remarks at a virtual meeting of parliament’s two labour committees ahead of a briefing by CCMA director Cameron Morajane on the work of the commission.

Nxesi noted that the CCMA had received 17 applications for large-scale retrenchments in terms of section 189 of the Labour Relations Act and 151 smaller applications. According to Morajane, the possible number of workers who could be retrenched in the large-scale applications was 3,300 and some of the smaller applications amounted to single-employee retrenchments.

Litigation

Small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) “have taken a hammering as a result of the pandemic and the lockdown to slow the spread of the virus”, the minister said.

He  expected there to be a lot of litigation over the planned retrenchments, probably less over substantive issues than procedural ones.

Nxesi said the CCMA was implementing a decentralised model to cope with the increased workload. Working out of local offices would mean that parties to a dispute would not have to travel long distances to have their matter heard. The department of employment & labour would assist where it could with its own provincial and regional offices and its labour centres. “We may need to request additional space from other organs of government,” Nxesi said.

CCMA offices will open on May 18.

To assist the CCMA with what is expected to be a deluge of disputes, the regulations have been amended to allow for the bargaining councils and leadership of trade union movement to mediate with some limited disputes so that they did not become full-blown disputes, Nxesi said.

“The CCMA is being asked to massively increase its caseload and this is going to have budgetary implications,” Nxesi said.

The commission was already labouring under an increased workload due to disputes over the implementation of the national minimum wage legislation and its involvement in settling land disputes.

Referring to the growing lobby for the government to ease the level of the lockdown, Nxesi said it would not be driven by emotions but would be guided by science and health experts. He said there was evidence that numbers of workers were starting to get infected. A departmental worker had died due to Covid-19.

CCMA national senior commissioner Marius Kotze told MPs that 1,669 cases were brought to the CCMA in April compared with 849 cases so far in May. In March there were 16,248 cases and the reason for the difference, Kotze said, is that normally the vast majority of cases are walk-ins, but with the level 5 lockdown the CCMA offices were closed.

Last year a total of 221,547 cases were brought before the CCMA, of which 20,698 are still in process.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za

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