South Africa: Arbitration Awards Issued In Terms Of The Labour Relations Act Do Not Prescribe

Last Updated: 31 January 2017
Article by Muzi Khoza

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, July 2017

On 15 December 2016, the South African Constitutional Court handed down a landmark judgment in Myathaza v Johannesburg Metropolitan Bus Services (SOC) Limited t/a Metrobus and Others, in which it held that arbitration awards issued in terms of the Labour Relations Act, 1995 (the "LRA") do not prescribe. This may have significant consequences for employers who have previously succeeded in the Labour Court or the Labour Appeal Court (the "LAC") in resisting the enforcement of arbitration awards on the basis that those awards had prescribed. Below is a brief discussion on the background facts of the case and the impact that the Constitutional Court's decision will have on the enforcement of arbitration awards in the future, especially those awards that employers have avoided complying with by relying on prescription.

Brief background

This matter concerned the applicability (or the extent of applicability) of the Prescription Act, 1969 (the "Prescription Act") to arbitration awards made in terms of the LRA prior to the Labour Relations Amendment Act, 2014. This amendment inserted section 145(9) into the LRA, which provides that an application to set aside an arbitration award "interrupts the running of prescription".

In November 2015, the LAC handed down a judgment in three matters involving appeals against decisions of the Labour Court, namely Myathaza v Johannesburg Metropolitan Bus Service (SOC) Limited t/a Metrobus; Mazibuko v Concor Plant; and Cellucity (Pty) Limited v Communication Workers Union obo Peters. In all three appeals, at issue was the applicability of the Prescription Act to arbitration awards made under the LRA. All of the appeals involved arbitration awards issued prior to 1 January 2015 and had to be decided on the wording of the LRA as it stood before the amendment of section 145 and, in particular, before the enactment insertion of section 145(9), which only applies to arbitration awards issued after 1 January 2015.

The three appeals had the following issues for determination:

  • whether the Prescription Act applies to arbitration awards made in terms of the LRA;
  • the period of prescription applicable to such arbitration awards; and
  • whether an application brought to review and set aside an arbitration award interrupts the running of prescription or whether such an application otherwise constitutes an impediment to the running of prescription.

The LAC held that in order to determine the applicability issue, it was necessary to consider whether an arbitration award is a "debt" as contemplated in section 16 of the Prescription Act and whether the LRA specified a period within which the arbitration award (ie, if it is a debt) is to be satisfied. The LAC held that any arbitration award that creates an obligation to pay or render to another, or to do something, or to refrain from doing something, meets the definitional criteria of a "debt" as contemplated in the Prescription Act. Although an arbitration award under the LRA is generally not a "judgment debt" under the Prescription Act, it comfortably satisfies the definitional criteria of a mere "debt" under that Act. Accordingly, the LAC held that a three-year prescriptive period applies to such arbitration awards. As a result of this judgment and the previous judgments of the Labour Court, employers who had adverse arbitration awards against them were able to avoid complying with those awards if three years had lapsed.

Constitutional Court judgment

The Constitutional Court, on appeal, delivered three separate judgments in the Myathaza matter. Each supported the same ultimate finding that prescription did not run in respect of the arbitration awards in terms of the LRA, but for different reasons. The court ordered that the arbitration award in question be made an order of court.

In the first judgment, by Justice Jafta, the court found that the LRA tribunals are specialist tribunals that operate separately from ordinary civil courts and even reviews of arbitration awards take place in a specialised court created in terms of the LRA. This could not have been contemplated by the Prescription Act, which was enacted in 1969. This judgment further held that the provisions of the LRA are inconsistent with those of the Prescription Act and the objectives of the two Acts differ.

In the second judgment, Justice Froneman found that reinstatement is in fact a "debt" as envisaged in the Prescription Act. However, the Prescription Act must be reinterpreted to give proper constitutional effect to access to justice. The best way to do this is to apply the principle that prescription does not run until court proceedings are finalised. The court held that the amendment that took effect on 1 January 2015 affirms this position.

In the third judgment, Justice Zondo, for additional reasons, supported the first judgment and held that the LRA dispute resolution system is a specialised self-standing system, with its own prescribed periods that are not subject to the Prescription Act.


The effect of this judgment is that employers who have adverse awards against them cannot avoid complying with the awards by relying on prescription. More significantly, there is a substantial number of employers who have previously succeeded, either in the Labour Courts or the LAC, by relying on the prescription of LRA arbitration awards. These employers may find former employees and trade unions applying to have LRA arbitration awards made orders of court or for the rescission of judgments in which the awards were held to have prescribed. In such proceedings, former employees and trade unions may argue that the judgments were erroneously given. It is important for such employers to seek appropriate advice as soon as possible, and before employees and trade unions take any steps following this judgment.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.