4 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Arbitrators Come Under Fire

Arbitrators have failed to expedite the settlement of labour disputes because they award unrealistic and dubious figures, leading to more appeals piling at the Labour Court, a Cabinet Minister has said.

The arbitrators were introduced in the labour dispute settlement system a few years ago in a bid to lessen the burden on the Labour Court and ensure quick resolution of disputes.

But Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa last week said the move had failed to produce desired results.

He was speaking at a Matsikidze and Mucheche Labour and Business Consultancy workshop in Harare.

"It would seem the expectation that the introduction of arbitrators would result in the expeditious settlement of employment disputes has not materialised," said Minister Chinamasa.

"A considerable time of the Labour Court is taken up by the hearing of appeals from decisions of arbitrators."

Minister Chinamasa said questions have ultimately been raised as to the training of the arbitrators, their competence, the fees that they charge, which were until recently unregulated, the delays in dispute resolution and the soundness of their decisions.

He said there was now a situation where both employers and employees did not have confidence in arbitrators.

"Employers claim that arbitrators do not appreciate the financial position of companies, while employees find themselves unable to accept decisions of the arbitrators that are not in their favour," said Minister Chinamasa.

"What purpose then does arbitration serve if the parties concerned will inevitably appeal the decision of the arbitrator at the Labour Court?"

He said in disciplinary processes it should be sufficient for a disgruntled employee to take a case straight to the Labour Court without having to pass through the arbitrator.

"The time has come for a full and open debate on the role of arbitrators in labour matters," said Minister Chinamasa.

"It is an issue where input will be required not only from the legal practitioner, but more importantly from trade unions, the employers organisations and all concerned."

The Labour Relations Amendment Act, 2002 (No. 17) which abolished the Labour Relations Tribunal introduced a new system of dispute resolution through the use of arbitrators and the Labour Court.

Where a labour officer has failed to conciliate a dispute, the case would then be referred to an arbitrator. Arbitrators have mainly been drawn from labour officers, human resources practitioners, trade unionists and legal practitioners.

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