The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has closed its doors amid fears about the novel coronavirus outbreak.
On Tuesday, the statutory body mandated to deal with workplace disputes released an urgent directive postponing all matters set down to be heard between March 18 and April 14.
“No persons will be allowed to walk into any of the CCMA offices for the purposes of enquiries and serving/delivering any processes or documents,” the directive reads.
“The CCMA will only accept referrals received through other non-contact methods such as email or fax, as contained in rule seven of the CCMA Rules. Users are encouraged to use these alternative methods of serving.”
The CCMA directive comes in the wake of the decision by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to confine the number of people attending court hearings so as to comply with the limit on gatherings, prescribed by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The courts will otherwise run as usual and “people will be represented”, Mogoeng said.
The CCMA directive limits all dispute resolution to follow non-contact procedures. This means that pre-conciliations will continue because they are conducted over telephone and conciliations may be conducted telephonically if “agreed to by Parties, [the] CCMA and [the] commissioner. “Commissioners may attempt to resolve disputes using telephonic or online methods prescribed and approved by the CCMA.”
But, in “large-scale dismissals processes … inquiry by arbitrator processes … and identified matters of public interest, the CCMA may approve that these matters be set down in venues other than the CCMA offices, subject to … strict conditions”.
The CCMA’s decision also comes amid concerns about the rights of workers during the outbreak.
A number of trade unions have raised alarm bells about the threat Covid-19 poses to workers, many of whom are on the frontline of containing the outbreak.
On Monday, a special executive committee meeting of the National Economic Development and Labour Council resolved workplaces will need to adapt in different ways to respond to the pandemic.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the department of employment and labour said it has developed a “Covid-19 guideline”, which focuses on the need for employers to implement a number of measures to protect workers in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
Later on Tuesday, Minister of Employment and Labour Thulas Nxesi issued a statement offering assistance to companies in distress.
The minister announced that “a period of reprieve will be considered in order for companies not to contribute to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and that the fund’s Temporary Employer Relief Scheme will be used to ensure that workers are not laid off.
“In instances where companies decide to close for a short period as a precautionary measure, the short-term UIF benefit will kick in. If a company contemplates a short- term shut down, they are required to inform the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Our team will visit these companies to provide assistance with the processing of the claims,” Nxesi said.
Nxesi added that in instances where a worker has to be self-quarantined for 14 days, “such a leave will be recognised as a special leave which will be fully paid on condition that the reason for the quarantine meets the requirements and that the employee can apply for UIF benefits”.
The minister also urged employers to conduct a health and safety risk assessment in consultation with the workers, “whilst ensuring that measures are put in place to ensure a healthy workplace for the workers as required by law”.
Employers are required to provide necessary protective equipment and put in place systems to deal with the outbreak, he said.