The business community is considering more retrenchments. These are often challenged, which will place an additional burden on the CCMA, says the writer. Picture: SOWETAN
The business community is considering more retrenchments. These are often challenged, which will place an additional burden on the CCMA, says the writer. Picture: SOWETAN

The Workmen’s Compensation Fund and the Unemployment Insurance Fund have failed the public in so many ways, but the department of labour still has one crown jewel — the Commission for Conciliation Mediation & Arbitration (CCMA.

The functionality of the CCMA has grown in leaps and bounds over the past 21 years, and it has managed to a large degree to fulfil its mandate.

Over the last financial year (2016/2017) the CCMA received 189,000 referrals, translating to about 745 new cases every working day. This caseload is increasing exponentially and poses a risk to the organisation’s efficiency and effectiveness.

If normal growth is assumed for the next year, the CCMA can expect referrals of just more than 210,000 cases.

The government has created a scenario in which the environment is not conducive to job creation. On the contrary, the business community is considering more retrenchments. These are often challenged, which will place an additional burden on the CCMA.

In hundreds of instances large and small businesses have turned a blind eye to labour laws, and this number will undoubtedly increase after the implementation of the national minimum wage.

The CCMA has been holding to its mandate to achieve conciliation within 30 days from the referral of the dispute. It has also been managing to settle almost 75% of disputes before going to arbitration.

If a matter is referred for arbitration the case is normally heard within 60 days of the referral.

However, the CCMA has reported that there is a trend towards more small-scale retrenchment activity, which is a reason for concern since the fact that more jobs are being lost in smaller businesses is adding to the burden on the CCMA.

The promulgation of labour law amendments in 2014 resulted in more disputes being referred to the CCMA.

Little or no research, however, seems to have been done about what the next set of amendments will do to the CCMA. These include the national minimum wage, which will probably be promulgated in 2019. CCMA director Cameron Morajane has said as a result he expects an increase of up to 20% in the referral caseload.

In assessing the latest budget and allotment of funds to the CCMA it is apparent that no provision has been made for this. The government was warned, but in its "wisdom" has chosen not to increase the CCMA budget. This bizarre situation risks the destruction of the department of labour’s last working component.

The pressure of the increased caseload will be tantamount to destroying an organisation that is already labouring under a stretched and overworked administration. Even if new commissioners are employed to take on the increased caseload, there doesn’t appear to be any money available to train them, and this would in any event take a year or more.

The government has chosen the populist route of legislating a national minimum wage, but does not have the wherewithal to implement the legislation.

The department of labour’s inspectorate, moreover, is wholly inadequate — it can’t monitor the current labour laws properly, let alone new ones. There appears to be no extra budget for more inspectors, or for training those that are already in the department’s employ.

In hundreds of instances large and small businesses have turned a blind eye to labour laws, and this number will undoubtedly increase after the implementation of the national minimum wage.

The 2018/2019 annual performance plan reads: "In the upcoming financial year, the CCMA faces new challenges in as far as pending employment laws amendments and the role it will be required to play in terms of the enforcement of the minimum wage. Both the amendments and the new legislation will have the consequence of an increase in the current caseload of the organisation.

"In an environment where the organisation has already been stretched in as far as manpower and budget, the additional work will put further strain on a system that is already dealing with approximately 190,000 cases.

"Over and above the impact on the caseload, resources will also have to be utilised for the purposes of training of internal and external users to ensure that they are capacitated to deal with the requirements of the pending changes."

This was a clear warning to the minister and the government from its own department of labour that trouble is looming. They have paid it no heed.

• Bagraim, MP, is the DA labour spokesperson.

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