Tag: CCMA

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

Employers are entitled to use confessions as evidence in disciplinary hearings.

However, just because an employee makes a confession this does not allow the employer to fire the employee on the spot.

This is because:

• Even where the employee does confess s/he is still entitled to a proper hearing

• The confession may have been coerced

• The employee may not have understood what he was doing when he/she signed the confession

• The act to which the employee confessed may not amount to misconduct serious enough infringement to merit dismissal.

• The CCMA might find, for technical reasons, that the confession was invalid.

We need to look at each of these factors more closely:

Even where the employee does confess he/she is still entitled to proper procedure

The Labour Relations Act (LRA) gives employees the unassailable right to a hearing and not even a confession of murder will allow the employer to deviate from this principle.

Even where the employee properly confesses to an act of misconduct it may not be a serious enough infringement to merit dismissal

Dismissal would be unfair where the employee admits to having arrived half an hour late for work especially if this is a first or second offence because dismissal must be reserved for repeated offences or for gross misconduct.

The CCMA might find, for technical reasons, that the confession was invalid

For example, in the case of FAWU obo Sotyato vs JH Group Retail Trust (2001, 8, BALR 864) the employee signed a confession that he had stolen two bottles of beer. However, the CCMA ruled out this confession on the grounds that it had not been sworn before a commissioner of oaths.

The confession may not have been made willingly

If the confession was made under duress it will not qualify as a confession at all. At best it will constitute a meaningless statement coerced out of the employee; and at worst it will act as proof that the employer was seeking a scapegoat or was trying to concoct a false case against the employee as a means of getting rid of him/her for unacceptable reasons.

The employee may not have understood what he was doing when s/he signed the confession

The employee may be asked to sign a confession document but may, for example, think he/she is signing acknowledgement of receipt of a notice of a disciplinary hearing. Should this be proven the confession will become invalid.

Confessions that are properly made and wisely used can be valuable at disciplinary hearings. The challenge for the employer is therefore to obtain the expertise necessary to ensure that once a confession is made that it sticks and is appropriately used.

Be prepared for con-arb at the CCMA

By Ivan Israelstam, chief executive of Labour Law Management Consulting

The CCMA hears over 180 000 cases a year. This can result in backlogs and delays in resolution of disputes. As a consequence the law provides for a speedier dispute resolution process called con-arb, which stands for conciliation-arbitration.

Regardless of whether con/arb is applied the process always begins with conciliation. This is a peace-making process whereby a CCMA or bargaining council (BC) mediator tries to assist the employer and employee to reach an out-of-court agreement and a quick resolution of the dispute. The conciliating commissioner has no authority to make an award (judgement).

On the other hand arbitration is a judicial-type process that usually occurs if a conciliated settlement is not achieved. At arbitration the employer and employee do not negotiate an agreement. Instead, they bring and present evidence as in any court case so that the arbitrator can make a finding.

Con-arb is when, instead of scheduling the arbitration for a later date, it is held on the same day, the very minute that conciliation fails! Thus, the parties have no time after the conciliation meeting to prepare their evidence and arguments for the arbitration!

Therefore, on receiving any con-arb notice a party who does not want con-arb must lodge a formal objection at least 7 days in advance of the set hearing date. However, such an objection will not be valid if the dispute concerns an unfair dismissal relating to probation or an unfair labour practice relating to probation.

As mentioned, the purpose of con-arb is to cut down drastically the time period between conciliation and arbitration. It could also have the effect of forcing the parties to make every effort in trying to settle the matter at conciliation. This is because they are aware of the arbitration that will take place immediately conciliation fails.

It is essential for employers and employees who receive con-arb notices to:

• Realise straight away that it is a con-arb that has been scheduled
• Understand what con-arb means for them in practice
• Begin immediately with preparations for the con-arb.

This is particularly so because the parties seldom get more than 14 days advance notice of a con-arb.

The parties need to enter into intensive preparations the moment they receive a con-arb notification because:

• 14 days is very little for purposes of preparation
• The parties have to prepare for both conciliation and for arbitration
• Preparation for arbitration in particular takes a great deal of time.

Included in these preparations should be:

• The preparation of the witnesses of truthful, relevant and accurate testimonies
• Collecting and preparing documentary and other evidence
• Responses to anticipated evidence that the opposing party could bring
• Preparation of case arguments and case law.

The Labour Court has found that the dismissal of four of the eight journalists fired by the SABC to be unlawful.

The court ordered that the journalists be allowed to return to work.

The SABC was also interdicted from continuing with the disciplinary action against them.

Trade union Solidarity, acting on behalf of four of the eight journalists — Foeta Krige, Suna Venter, Jacques Steenkamp and Krivani Pillay — lodged an application in the Labour Court in a bid to have dismissals overturned.

Eight journalists were suspended for questioning an editorial decision taken to ban the footage of violent protests where public property was being burnt. Following this seven of the eight were fired.

By Genevieve Quintal for BDLive

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