n South African Journal of Labour Relations - The labour dispute resolution system and the quest for social justice : a case study on the CCMA, unfair dismissals and small business

Volume 26, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0379-8410



One of the key features of the new labour dispensation in South Africa and the dispute resolution system it introduced is the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), which was modelled on a private system of mediation and arbitration that was perceived to be effective in practice. However, it has been suggested that aspects of the dispute resolution system are impacting adversely on small business, and recommendations were made in 2000 on ways to modify the system. The impetus for the research that is the subject of this article was to assess whether there was an empirical basis for the recommendations. The research therefore sought to assess the impact of the dispute resolution system, having specific regard to the CCMA and small business, and to determine whether the system is promoting social justice. The research was conducted in three regions, Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. Its specific focus was on the arbitration of unfair dismissals conducted by the CCMA. The research established a profile of the employers and employees concerned in unfair dismissal arbitrations during the research period, and also analysed arbitration awards. The data obtained and the awards in respect of small enterprises (ie enterprises employing less than 50 people) were compared with those for larger enterprises. The research confirmed that a significant proportion of dismissal arbitrations involve small enterprises. Moreover, there were some important differences in the profile of employees involved in dismissal disputes according to the size of the enterprise, and there were marked differences between dismissal disputes in small and larger enterprises. These differences are presented and discussed in the article. The research concluded that the dispute resolution system, and particularly section 194 of the Labour Relations Act, has had a disproportionate impacton small enterprises. The predicament that small enterprises pose for the dispute resolution system is that the disputes that they give rise to are no less complex than in the case of larger enterprises, and often more so, but the parties generally do not have the resources to put into resolving disputes, let alone preventing them. This poses difficulties if the dispute resolution system is to achieve the goal of social justice. The article suggests that the dispute resolution system is premised on a number of assumptions, all of which need to be explicated if social justice is to be advanced.

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