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How best to resolve workplace disputes

Conflict in society is as natural as humanity. Conflict may not be eliminated nevertheless, so it is essential to deploy systems that ensure its channelling and resolution.


Disputes at the workplace are generally categorised into two: disputes of right and disputes of interests. In terms of Part 1 of the Labour Act Chapter 28.01, a dispute of right means, “any dispute involving legal rights and obligations, including any dispute occasioned by an actual or alleged unfair labour practice, a breach or alleged breach of this Act or of any regulations made under this Act, or a breach or alleged breach of any of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement or contract of employment.”

What this means is that a dispute of right is predicated on a violation or perceived violation of a legal entitlement. For instance, if any female employee is denied maternity leave which is legally provided for in section 18 of the Labour Act, Chapter 28.01, this is classified as a dispute of right.

On the other hand, a dispute of interest does not necessarily follow the existence of a legal entitlement. For example, salary adjustment is a dispute of interest.

In resolving workplace disputes, managers must be alert. Managers must conduct industrial relations scouting in order to detect potential threats to the industrial relations climate. Other than waiting for formal grievances to be written down, it is essential to be out there scouting and nipping issues in the bud.

Employees may use informal ways to get message across to bosses

From my experience as a human capital practitioner, I have discovered that there are certain grievances that may not be written down for whatever reason. Nevertheless, the same grievances may be deliberately mentioned or insinuated in the presence of a manager.

It is therefore important for managers to increase their visibility to employees during breaktime, lunch or other relaxed set ups. When managers do not visit employees’ canteens, they are effectively denying themselves an opportunity to hear information which may be converted into industrial relations intelligence.

Every company must have a grievance procedure. This must be communicated to employees during induction. There are instances when employees externalise their grievances without following the available domestic remedies. This is unprocedural and the courts are not bound to entertain such disputes. The net effect usually is the hardening of attitudes, which eventually sours the industrial relations climate resulting in compromised productivity.

Unresolved disputes may be escalated to the Labour Officers or to the Designated Agents of National Employment Councils for conciliation in terms of section 93 and section 63 of the Labour Act.

Employees are usually guilty of circumventing the National Employment Councils and lodging disputes before the Ministry of Labour. This is unprocedural. Section 63 (3b) of the Labour Act provides that, “Where a designated agent is authorised to redress any dispute or unfair labour practice in terms of subsection (3a), no labour officer shall have jurisdiction.”

In the Murowa Diamonds vs Makumbe SC16/16/2008 case, it was held to be undesirable for the Labour Court to entertain an appeal from a Code hearing before procedures laid down in the Code had been exhausted. This case sets precedence that relevant procedures have to be exhausted before any court can entertain any matter. In this instance, such a dispute would be deemed improper before the Labour Officer.

Request Machimbira is the Group Chief Executive Officer for Proficiency Consulting Group International and StrategyWorld Consulting. For feedback, request@proficiencyinternational.com or visit
website www.proficiencyinternational.com. Phone 0772 693 404/ 0776 228 575. Facebook Profile: Request Tinashe Machimbira

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