26 May

In our previous blog, UASA-The Union explained the functions of the CCMA, the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration. We looked at how it works and what its services entail.

Today we are going to be looking at the Labour Court. What is the Labour Court of South Africa, what does it do and how does a case end up before the court.

What is the Labour Court?

The Labour Court is a South African court that handles labour law cases, that is, disputes arising from the relationship between employer, employee and trade unions. The court was established by the Labour Relations Act and has the same status as a division of the High Court.

It has various seats in Johannesburg and is additionally situated in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. Disputes arising in Limpopo, the North West-, Mpumalanga- and Free State Provinces are heard in the Johannesburg Labour Court.

The Labour Court in Cape Town serves the Western- and Northern Cape Provinces. The Durban Labour Court has jurisdiction over disputes in KwaZulu-Natal Province. The Labour Court in Port Elizabeth serves as a court based on referrals arising in the Eastern Cape.

The Labour Court has exclusive jurisdiction over cases arising from the Labour Relations Act which deals with collective bargaining, trade unions, strikes and lockouts, automatically unfair dismissals large-scale retrenchments and unfair labour practices etc. The court is headed up by a Judge President and a Deputy Judge President.

Although many unfair dismissal matters are taken on review, the Labour Court has implemented measures to minimise the quantity of such reviews, there are instances where reviews may set aside an unfair dismissal or refer it back to arbitration at the CCMA or Bargaining Council “BC”).

Each case before the Labour Court is heard by a single judge. Judgments of the Labour Court may be taken on appeal to the Labour Appeal Court (“LAC”). Three (3) judges sit simultaneously on appeal matters.

An unsuccessful party may apply for leave to appeal a matter heard by the LAC to the Constitutional Court of South Africa where there is an allegation that a constitutional right has not been given due consideration by the LAC in its ruling.

How does a case end up before the Labour Court?

Most cases have their roots or origins in the CCMA or an appropriate Bargaining Council (“BC”). It is usually the first “port of call” for disputes relating to say unfair discrimination.

  • In most instances the aggrieved employee must start off by completing a dispute referral form and lodge it with the CCMA/BC.
  • A conciliation meeting is set up where a conciliator or mediator is appointed to attempt to facilitate a settlement agreement.
  • Where this is unsuccessful the employer and employee sign a contract setting out the terms of their settlement agreement and the matter is then closed.
  • If the dispute is not resolved at conciliation or mediation, the employee may refer it to the next level which, depending on the nature of the dispute, may be the Labour Court (a court of law which is regarded as akin to the High Court).
  • The matter will go to the Labour Court instead of to arbitration if the dispute relates to matters such as a multiple retrenchment, strike dismissals or automatically unfair dismissals.
  • At the Labour Court the judge hears evidence from the employer and employee/trade union and legal submissions and then rules in the form of a court judgement.
  • Once the judge has communicated his/her decision to the parties either of them may, if dissatisfied apply for leave to apply to the Labour Appeal Court;
  • Any decision of the Labour Court may be referred to the Labour Appeal Court once leave to appeal has been granted by the presiding judge at the Labour Court and could be referred and to the Constitutional Court.
  • The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) previously was the next court of appeal after an appeal has been unsuccessful, however this was amended by the law by excluding it as a court of appeal in labour matters. This decision was initiated due to the excessively lengthy delays for the resolution of disputes through the various processes referred to the afore-mentioned dispute resolution tribunals and the various labour courts above.

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