The huge backlog of cases in the office of the pension funds adjudicator is expected to be a thing of the past following the establishment of the conciliation service.
Established last week, the service is aimed at expediting, in an appropriate and tried-and-tested manner, cases that have been piling up for years.
The service, which will begin at the beginning of next month, hopes to deal with 2300 complaints during the current financial year, with a settlement rate of about 45 percent.
The office of the pensions funds adjudicator (Opfa) says it is currently facing a backlog of more than 10000 open files, with some dating as far back as four years.
This, according to pension funds adjudicator Mamodupe Mohlala, necessitated the service, which she describes as the most expedient, appropriate and tried and tested dispute-resolution mechanism.
This is in line with Opfa's legislative mandate to dispose of complaints in a procedurally fair, economical and expeditious manner.
Section 30E of the Pension Fund Act gives the adjudicator the powers to refer any pension fund complaints to an established dispute resolution organisation before investigating the complaint.
If, in the adjudicator's opinion, the matter could be speedily resolved or is of such a nature that it could be resolved through negotiation as opposed to adjudication, these matters will be referred to conciliation.
This procedure, says the adjudicator, is aimed at ensuring that disputes are resolved or disposed of as speedily as possible. The anticipated turnaround time for complaints is 90 days from the date of referral.
To facilitate this process conciliation guidelines have been drafted after consultation with various stakeholders to lay down the principles and procedures to govern the process.
The guidelines, which give the adjudicator the power to decide which matter should be referred to conciliation, provide, among other things, that:
lMatters will be referred to conciliation after the complaint has been received, before commencement of the investigation;
lThe conciliation process will be undertaken by independent third party conciliators appointed by the adjudicator;
lThe proceedings are to be private and confidential;
lThe adjudicator will decide on the matters that have to be conciliated;
lConciliation proceedings will be undertaken in person or telephonically, depending on the circumstances; and
lThere will be no legal representation between the parties in order to ensure parity.
On reaching any settlement, the written agreement shall be binding on parties once it is signed by the adjudicator.
This agreement will have the status of conciliation determination, with the same force and effect as any other determination by the adjudicator.
A team of conciliators appointed, according to experience in alternative dispute resolution will constitute the service with day-to-day activities of the conciliation service administered by a conciliation coordinator.
Though the service will be based in Johannesburg, conciliators will, from time to time, travel to other parts of the country to perform conciliation services nearer the parties.