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Natural justice for employees : the problem of judicial review in employment relations.

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Work plays a dominant role in modern society. It is through work that the economic well being of any society is sustained. Workers who perform various tasks contribute to the well being of society as well as to their betterment as individuals. Thus paid employment has assumed a prominent role in modern society. It is an incentive on individuals to contribute to socio-economic welfare, while their needs and aspirations as individuals are also satisfied. But for an orderly society to exist, there has to be a subjection of some members of society by others, a division between those who have the social mandate (express or tacit) to exercise power for and on behalf of others. Thus work relations comprise those who exercise managerial power(employers) and those subject to managerial power (employees). In broader political relations, the task of social management is performed by the state. However those exercising managerial functions do not have unfettered discretion. Power should be exercised within acceptable social limits and be used to achieve realistic social goals. Thus it has been felt that the laws should always ensure that the incumbents of governmental power do not exceed the scope of their power or abuse it. Hence the process of judicial review. This gives the courts the power to review the decisions of administrative authorities in order to protect individual citizens who might be adversely affected by bad administrative decisions. This analogy has been applied in employment relations in order to protect individual employees against arbitrary dismissal by employers. It has been held that an employee cannot be dismissed without a valid reason and in compliance with a fair procedure. The question asked here is whether this is sufficient to ensure substantive employment protection. Is judicial review really effective in employment relations? It is observed that judicial review in labour law has many limitations as compared to the administrative law context. First, it comes face to face with the problem of the public/private law distinction, which holds the employment relationship to be fundamentally a private relationship between the employer and employee. This complicates the application of public law remedies in supposedly private relations, where the parties are assumed to have freedom of contract. The second problem involves the debate as to whether the state should impose many restrictions on the modern corporation or there should be minimal state intervention to allow the corporation to function in accordance with the labour market demands and economic necessity. It is concluded that the law of unfair dismissal has consequently been put in a dilemma. While the need has been perceived to curb the arbitrary use of managerial power by employers, substantive employment protection can hardly be guaranteed. The problem seems to be that of striking the balance between the interests of employees, employers and society at large.


Thesis (LL.M.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1995.


Employees--Dismissal of--South Africa., Theses--Law., Judicial review--South Africa., Unfair labour practices--South Africa.