Most employers are unfamiliar with how to conduct internal grievances lodged by their employees. It needs to be highlighted that the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, in conjunction with the Labour Relation Act, state that everyone has the right to fair Labour Practices within the workplace. Grievances normally relate to one or more of the following factors: an employee is dissatisfied with the conditions of employment in that the said employee might be ill-treated by his/her manager, supervisor, or co-worker, or by these same individuals making his/her working conditions intolerable. These are just a few factors that can lead to an employee lodging a grievance.

It is important that during an induction, upon commencement of employment that employees are informed about the company policy and procedure that needs to be followed when lodging grievances, however, many employers do not have internal grievance policies in the workplace, which in most cases results in an employee referring unfair labour practice with the CCMA, without having exhausted the internal grievance process. This makes the employer look bad or unprofessional at the CCMA, as most matters related to unfair labour practices need to be dealt with internally before being referred to the CCMA.

Normally, the status quo when it comes to grievances is that it needs to be put in writing and should entail a detailed summary of events and, if possible, indicate the preferred outcome regarding the issue at hand. Please note that grievances can be addressed to the Supervisor/Manager, who can forward it to the Human Resource practitioner who deals with all the internal affairs of the company. It is advisable that the HR practitioner should respond to the said grievance in writing within 7 days, this is to give the employee the assurance that his/her grievance is being dealt with in a proper manner. The grievance procedure is also intended to empower employees with the opportunity and procedure to be able to raise issues of dissatisfaction with the employer.

One of the major concerns is that employers who fail to address certain internal grievances with the mindset that it does not form part of the scope of work of that aggrieved employee, and the employer sees no need to address such concerns. It needs to be noted that failure to address grievances that have been internally lodged can lead to an employee resigning and referring a constructive dismissal matter at the CCMA due to intolerable working conditions, which the employer failed to address. Furthermore, the employee can go to the Department of Employment and Labour (DOEL), in which one of the inspectors may visit the employer’s place of business.

With regards to the Practice and Procedure, In the matter of Masupha v Member of the Executive Council for Gauteng Provincial Treasury & another (2022) 31 LC 1.13.1 also reported at [2022] 1 BLLR 80 ((LC), the Applicant was appointed by the Gauteng Provincial Treasury on a five-year fixed term contract in 2015. Three years later, the Gauteng premier requested that all senior managers in the province be converted to permanent positions. The Applicant subsequently learned that three colleagues had been appointed permanently, while she had not, even though some documents indicated that she was a permanent employee. The Applicant nonetheless accepted an extension of her fixed-term contract to 2020, which was set to expire at the end of the following year. In 2021, the Applicant’s union assured her that her position would become permanent in 2022, but a month later, she learned that her position had to be advertised.

The Applicant demanded that the recruitment process be halted, then lodged a formal grievance claiming that she had a reasonable expectation that she would be permanently employed and stating her desired outcome of the grievance was to suspend the recruitment process. The department, however, rejected the demand to do so, and the Applicant launched an urgent application for an order restraining the department from appointing any candidate until her grievance was resolved. The right that the Applicant claimed was found in section 35 of the Public Service Act, 1994, which required the grievance to be investigated within 30 days, and the Applicant was informed that the investigation had commenced but nonetheless prematurely approached the court.

The court held that the Applicant had no right to have the grievance resolved in her favour. The recruitment process and grievance procedure are different, and the definition of a grievance in the applicable resolution excludes disputes over dismissals. The Applicant was dismissed with no order as to costs.

Article By: Ernest Masupye
Senior Collective Bargaining Coordinator