Back to top

What is a Dispute?

A dispute is any serious disagreement between two parties. For example, there could be a dispute over a problem of discipline in the workplace, over complaints (also called ‘grievances’) which employees have, or over dismissals. There can also be disputes over wages and other working conditions.

So, there are different kinds of disputes. You can have a dispute about making new rights, for example employees wanting to get paid higher wages or the employer bringing in a new pension or provident fund scheme which employees must belong to. These disputes are also called disputes of interest. These disputes are often handled by a union and are the subject of negotiation and possible industrial action (strike action) where agreement cannot be reached. The Labour Relations Act describes structures and processes which can be used to resolve disputes of interest. The Act also governs the procedures for taking industrial action.

There are also disputes over rights which already exist in a contract, a law, an agreement or in custom and practice. These kinds of disputes are called disputes of right. They usually involve an unfair dismissal (for example retrenching employees without consulting with the employees) or unfair discrimination or an unfair labour practice (such as ‘removal of benefits’). The Labour Relations Act sets out how disputes over rights in the workplace must be handled and the Employment Equity Act sets out how discrimination will be dealt with in the workplace.

(See: Labour Relations Act; Employment Equity Act)

A dispute of right can also happen when an employer or employee doesn’t obey a term or condition of a wage regulating measure, for example the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, a Bargaining Council Agreement (or other collective agreement), Wage Determination, Sectoral Determination, or a ministerial exemption. (See: Laws About Terms and Conditions of Employment)

An example of a dispute of right is where an employer doesn’t pay an employee the correct leave pay or where an employee is dismissed without the employer following a fair procedure. Enforcement and disputes about terms and conditions of employment that fall under these laws should be dealt with by the relevant Bargaining Council or the Department of Labour.

Get assistance with: