Employment

Landmark jurisdictional dispute relating to essential services

In a landmark dispute, CDH's Employment practice acted for long-standing client, South Africa's exclusive and national power entity, Eskom Holdings SOC Limited in a dispute against National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa (NUMSA) regarding the two parties' failure to conclude a new essential services agreement.

In 1997 the generation, transmission and distribution of power was declared to be an essential service as envisaged by the Labour Relations Act. Due to this classification, an essential services agreement between the parties was crucial (to ensure that some employees continue to work and provide a minimum service in the event that other employees strike). The previous essential services agreement between the two parties was unilaterally cancelled by NUMSA, necessitating a new agreement. The parties, however, failed to reach consensus. The crux of the dispute was which body (the CCMA or the Essential Services Committee) had jurisdiction to resolve the deadlock between Eskom and NUMSA. The matter culminated in a declaration by the Essential Services Committee who forms part of the minimum services agreement.

The ruling by the Supreme Court of Appeal clarifies part of the Labour Relations Act, designating the dispute between Eskom and NUMSA (and future disputes regarding essential service agreements) to the jurisdiction of the Essential Services Committee. Led by Partner and National Practice Head, Aadil Patel, our Employment team's role in the case which is of great natural importance illustrates that our practitioners are thought-leaders in their field, guiding their clients in unchartered labour law territory.