Top court upholds CCMA ruling on wage dispute
The Constitutional Court upheld a Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) decision on Thursday that a company, Tao Ying Metal Industries, must pay workers according to minimum wage rules.
The company had been arguing that it was exempt from industry-wide minimum wages set in a 1998 bargaining council agreement.
Previously Tao Ying was part of an Industrial Council agreement from 1980 in which it had applied for and been granted certain exemptions—including one permitting it to pay wages lower than the minimum laid out in the agreement.
However, the Commercial Workers’ Union of South Africa (Cusa) brought a case against the company, saying that since the 1998 agreement the previous exemption was no longer valid.
Cusa claimed that the exemptions were invalid because it had not been consulted prior to their being granted. The union then took Tao Ying to the CCMA.
A CCMA commissioner found that the minimum wage exemption relied upon by the Tao Ying had expired and that it was obliged to pay workers rates set out in the 1998 agreement.
The Labour Court declined the company’s application to have this decision reviewed. The Labour Appeals Court heard the matter and upheld the CCMA decision.
However, on appeal, the Supreme Court of Appeal raised on its own accord the question of whether the CCMA had the jurisdiction to consider the validity of the exemptions. By majority, it held that the exemptions were still valid.
Cusa then applied to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal against this decision. The union argued at the Constitutional Court that the Supreme Court of Appeal was not entitled to raise the issue of jurisdiction of its own accord.
Tao Ying said the matter was not constitutional and that the CCMA commissioner had not applied her mind properly in assessing the exemption’s validity.
All the judges, expect one, went with a majority judgement that found the case raised important constitutional issues about the resolution of labour disputes.
The judgement, written by Justice Sandile Ngcobo, found that the CCMA did have the jurisdiction to decide on the validity of the exemption and that it had found correctly.
Dissenting Judge Justice Kate O’Regan said that the Constitutional Court should only hear collective bargaining-agreement disputes when they materially concerned the right to engage in collective bargaining.
All the judges agreed that a reviewing court, like the Supreme Court of Appeal, had the right to raise issues of its own accord. O’Regan said this could take place as long as parties were given a fair opportunity to address the issue.—Sapa