Virtual hearings are no longer science fiction

Lockdown has taken its toll on the hearing of disputes in general. Like the different courts, the CCMA could not open its doors again until quite recently.

To ensure the safety of everyone who attended the CCMA premises, a Standard Operations Procedure (“SOP”) guideline was issued in line with section 27 (2) of the Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002.

Since the reopening of the CCMA to the public on 18 May 2020, the CCMA has ensured that all its offices comply with and maintain stringent occupational health and safety regulations to protect everyone who enters the premises.

Should physical hearings proceed at CCMA premises, the parties must submit to compulsory screening, must wear a face mask, must apply hand sanitizer, and must adhere to applicable social distancing rules.

Despite all these precautions, a number of CCMA offices have already had to close for a few days to be disinfected and sanitised after it transpired that someone had tested positive and may therefore have constituted a threat to others.

The East London regional office was closed from 9 to 12 June; the Cape Town office was closed from  12 June to 17 June; the Polokwane, Klerksdorp, and Johannesburg (Fox Street) offices were closed on Monday 22 and Tuesday, 23 June 2020;  and the Cape Town office was closed a second time from 22 June – 24 June.

It is not only the CCMA premises that have had to close for deep cleansing and sanitisation since lockdown moved to Level 3  – courts,  police stations, supermarkets, factories, schools and businesses have also had to close after positive cases of Covid-19 were reported.

What this tells us is that no matter how careful we are and what precautions we take, there is no guarantee that we can avoid Covid-19 when we are in the vicinity of other people.

There is, however, a safe, cost-effective and readily available solution at hand.

Once we accept that we can continue with dispute resolution processes on a virtual platform such as, for example, Microsoft Teams or Zoom, we will not only take responsibility for our own safety and protection but also ensure that we do threaten to contaminate other parties.

Conducting processes on a virtual platform is no longer the business of science fiction. It is no longer something of the future. Since lockdown it has become the normal way of proceeding with disciplinary hearings, arbitrations and mediations.

All we have to do in order to say safe, is to click on the link that will let us join CCMA or Bargaining Council proceedings on a virtual platform.