Article 27/2022

The current test of review, which relies on flaws in the arbitrator’s reasoning, has been clearly articulated in the Goldfields Mining judgment dealt with in a previous article [Article 26/2022].  This test has been further articulated by the labour appeal court in Head of Department of Education v Mofokeng (2014) 25 SALLR 82 (LAC); (2015) 36 ILJ 2802 (LAC), and the following extracts from such judgment serve as clear guidelines for formulating grounds of review:

‘[32] …Mere errors of fact or law may not be enough to vitiate the award. Something more is required. To repeat: flaws in the reasoning of the arbitrator, evidenced in the failure to apply the mind, reliance on irrelevant considerations or the ignoring of material factors etc must be assessed with the purpose of establishing whether the arbitrator has undertaken the wrong enquiry, undertaken the enquiry in the wrong manner or arrived at an unreasonable result. Lapses in lawfulness, latent or patent irregularities and instances of dialectical unreasonableness should be of such an order (singularly or cumulatively) as to result in a misconceived enquiry or a decision which no reasonable decision maker could reach on all the material that was before him or her.

[33] Irregularities or errors in relation to the facts or issues, therefore, may or may not produce an unreasonable outcome or provide a compelling indication that the arbitrator misconceived the enquiry. In the final analysis, it will depend on the materiality of the error or irregularity and its relation to the result. Whether the irregularity or error is material must be assessed and determined with reference to the distorting effect it may or may not have had upon the arbitrator’s conception of the enquiry, the delimitation of the issues to be determined and the ultimate outcome. If but for an error or irregularity a different outcome would have resulted, it will ex hypothesi be material to the determination of the dispute. A material error of this order would point to at least a prima facie unreasonable result. The reviewing judge must then have regard to the general nature of the decision in issue; the range of relevant factors informing the decision; the nature of the competing interests impacted upon by the decision; and then ask whether a reasonable equilibrium has been struck in accordance with the objects of the LRA. Provided the right question was asked and answered by the arbitrator, a wrong answer will not necessarily be unreasonable. By the same token, an irregularity or error material to the determination of the dispute may constitute a misconception of the nature of the enquiry so as to lead to no fair trial of the issues, with the result that the award may be set aside on that ground alone. The arbitrator however must be shown to have diverted from the correct path in the conduct of the arbitration and as a result failed to address the question raised for determination.’

From the above, it is clear that flaws in reasoning, failure to apply one’s mind, reliance on irrelevant factors, ignoring material factors, etc, are not enough to vitiate an award and such award must be assessed with reference to whether or not such error or irregularity materially affected the results of the award.  Whether or not such materiality in respect of the result exists is, in essence, a question as to the distorting effect on the enquiry undertaken, the delimitation of the issues or the ultimate outcome of same.

With reference to Potgieter v Samancor Chrome Ltd t/a Tubatse Ferrochrome (2022) 33 SALLR 190 (LC) and Van Rensburg and Others v Department of Justice and Correctional Services and Others (2022) 33 SALLR 280 (LC); (2022) 43 ILJ 2110 (LC).

In what instances does the jurisdiction of the supreme court of appeal trump the jurisdiction of the labour appeal court?

Where an employer prematurely terminates a fixed-term contract and the employee challenges such termination as being unlawful and claims damages and not specific performance, the labour court has up to now ordered damages even though same is an unliquidated claim for damages.