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What CCMA budget cuts mean for workers

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NEWS ANALYSIS

The caseload of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) has increased 14.36% in the last year. But the money it gets from the government has increased by only 1.32%. It also has 17% fewer commissioners than it did in 2013, when it was dealing with only 70% of its current caseload. 

This is according to an analysis of the commission’s annual reports by the Mail & Guardian’s data desk, which confirms that — as CCMA director Cameron Morajane put it — there is no sugarcoating the effect more budget cuts will have on the statutory body mandated with saving jobs.

The CCMA will have its budget cut by R600-million over the next three years. This is amid a wave of job losses that are expected to occur as a result of the economic downturn triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

According to Statistics South Africa’s most recent labour data, there have been an estimated 1.68-million jobs lost in the past year.

“The results of this, if executed, are devastating … That’s important. And we are not arrogant about it,” Morajane said last week in an address to stakeholders about the cuts.

On top of a more significant retrenchment caseload, the commission has already been dealing with far more cases than it did at the start of 2019, when it was also mandated to tackle national minimum wage cases.

According to its annual report for the 2019-20 financial year, the increase in case referrals resulted in an increase in expenditure, from R414-million to R454-million, during the reporting period. 

Despite the influx of new cases, the money allocated to the commission by the government has not increased at the same rate. 

Morajane said it is “a simple fact” that the increase in the commission’s caseload is not commensurate with the budget.

He explained that although the commission understands that cuts to government budgets are necessary, “services will be affected severely if such a cut continues”.

“When we have not foreseen the budget cut, it is not the CCMA that is failing you,” Morajane said, talking about the first almost R100-million slashing of its budget earlier this year. 

“It is because we know that, broadly, the government has serious fiscus pressure … So the CCMA does understand the objective of the budget cut … [But] the R100-million was never planned. The R100-million was not expected.”

The CCMA has suffered budget cuts for the past three years, but, “there was never any noise about it. Nobody has ever been aggrieved about it or talked about it in the media, until this year.”

‘We can still do more with less’

In the face of these consistent cuts to its budget, the commission — which is seen as the department of employment and labour’s best performer — has put on a brave face.

And if Morajane’s address last Wednesday is anything to go by, this has not changed. 

But, the blow Covid-19 has dealt to the CCMA’s operations has caused the cracks to show and, in the past weeks, fears the commission will not be able to do its work have dominated public discourse.

Morajane explained that the commission had taken the decision not to employ more full-time commissioners. Between December 2020 and March 2021, the CCMA will also not be using part-time commissioners, which the commission has previously leaned on to help deal with its mounting caseload. 

But this does not mean the commission will not have anyone to deal with cases during this period, Morajane said.

“We have been operating as the CCMA even at level-five lockdown … We have been doing cases. We have been doing collective-bargaining cases. I have had to get involved myself as the director to make sure we are still operating during level five … So we have never stopped operating.”

The M&G’s analysis revealed that there had been a steady decline in the number of commissioners at the CCMA since the 2012-13 financial year, when it had 203 commissioners on its payroll. Although more commissioners were recruited to deal with the national minimum wage caseload, the CCMA still has only 168 commissioners.

The CCMA has had to halt walk-ins to protect staff from Covid-19. The largest number of cases at the body result from walk-ins, Morajane said. The commission has encouraged workers to use its digital platforms instead. 

Data sourced by the M&G in April showed that in the first month of the CCMA’s initial decision to stop walk-ins, it had received 5 141 case referrals. This is about a quarter of the average number of cases it would have dealt with during the same period last year.

“We were faced with two competing interests: one, providing services and, on the other side, life and the health of the users and the staff of the CCMA,” Morajane said on Wednesday, revealing that there have been 139 reported positive Covid-19 cases at the commission.

Morajane said that, despite its decreased resources, the commission would endeavour to 

make the most of what it does have. 

Fewer commissioners and no walk-ins will undoubtedly affect the commission’s performance, even if the public does heed its calls to make use of its digital platforms. 

And Covid-19, paired with the budget cuts, will likely change how and if worker disputes are resolved. But the commission has nevertheless tried to communicate that it will continue doing what it can.

“I am sure most of us are familiar with the concept that says, ‘You can still do more with less.’ Yes, we have less budget. We have fewer resources than we can use,” Morajane said.

“But we are finding ways to do more with those limited resources.”

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