The purpose of referring a dispute to the CCMA is to resolve it. There are three main categories of labour disputes:
Disputes which are arbitrable and have to be adjudicated by the CCMA.
Disputes which are justiciable and have to be adjudicated by the Labour Court.
Disputes which have to be resolved by the exercise of economic power, meaning the employees can either organise a strike or lock-out in support of their demands.
Conciliation is the first step of the two-step process that takes place when a labour dispute is referred to the CCMA/BC. During conciliation, the commissioner will try to get the employer and employee to agree to a solution to the problem. Since neither of the parties may be represented by an attorney, they either can appear in person or be represented by a trade union or employers’ organisation.
Disputes that could not be resolved during conciliation, are referred to arbitration where a commissioner will hear both sides of the argument before making a ruling. In general, legal representation would be allowed during the arbitration proceedings except where a worker was dismissed for misconduct or not performing job duties properly. The commissioner may however, make an exception depending on the merits of a particular case.
Only after a failed attempt at conciliation or the expiry of the prescribed time limits for conciliation, may the parties go to the next level of dispute resolution, i.e. the Labour Court.
Whereas the CCMA is usually the forum in case of relatively uncomplicated individual disputes, more complicated disputes are referred to the Labour Court. The employer needs to know to which forum a dispute should be referred and a labour attorney can give advice on this subject and even institute the proceedings on behalf of the employer. Different types of disputes have different time limits in which the employer must give the accused notice of the proceedings and a labour attorney can send these notices within the specified times, whilst ensuring that the notices comply to labour law specifications.