The CCMA itself describes an arbitration on its website (www.ccma.org.za) as “A hearing where a commissioner gives both parties an opportunity to present their cases regarding the issue in dispute by leading evidence, presenting documents, cross-examination of witnesses, and even conducting of inspection of premises, where that is necessary. A commissioner decides on the procedure to be followed, being mindful to ensure that the hearing is conducted with the minimum of legal formalities while ensuring that each party is given a fair opportunity to present their case. An arbitration hearing is a new hearing regarding the issue in dispute which has led to an employer’s decision to be challenged. A commissioner will then consider the fairness of an employer’s decision on the evidence presented and submissions made at the arbitration.”
An arbitration hearing is a process that takes place after the conciliation process has been concluded and where the parties were unable to find a possible resolution. If a dispute is not resolved through the conciliation process, the referring party may request the CCMA to resolve the dispute by arbitration if it is indeed a dispute that can be arbitrated. South African labour law legislation, such as the Labour Relations Act (LRA), the Employment Equity Act (EEA), the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA), and the Skills Development Act (SDA), specify which types of disputes can be referred to arbitration or the Labour Court after a conciliation process remains unresolved.
At an arbitration hearing, the Presiding Commissioner should give each party a fair and reasonable opportunity to state their case in full. The arbitration process can be likened to a court trial where the proceedings are recorded, and all rules of law are adhered to throughout. The witnesses that are called should lead formal evidence through examination-in-chief, where the other party may question these witnesses through cross-examination. Once both parties have presented their case, the Presiding Commissioner should require oral or written closing arguments for final consideration before deciding on the outcome of the dispute. The arbitration process may take a few hours up to several days to be completed, depending on the amount of evidence led, and witnesses called and depending on the complexity of the dispute.
In the “Guidelines on Misconduct Arbitrations” published by the CCMA, it is stipulated that an arbitration typically involves six stages, which are listed as follows: Preparation and introduction; Preliminary issues; Narrowing the issues in dispute; Hearing of evidence; Arguments; and the Arbitration Award.
Once an arbitration has been concluded, the Presiding Commissioner will then decide and issue a written outcome on the dispute, which is called an Arbitration Award. The Arbitration Award is subsequently sent to the parties by the CCMA within fourteen (14) days of the finalisation of the Arbitration hearing and is deemed final and legally binding upon all parties involved. An Arbitration Award is held in the same regard as a Court Order or Court Judgement. If a party wishes to contest an Arbitration Award, such award can only be challenged through a review process in the Labour Court.
Article by: Carl Ranger
Dispute Resolution Official – Bloemfontein