Reconciliation is the best solution

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When problems arise between individuals and differences break out between opponents, it is difficult to reach an understanding between these parties. On such occasions, the worker complains of ill treatment at the hands of his employer, and the employer accuses the employee of not doing his job properly. On other occasions, the employee accuses his boss of discrimination and bias and of favoring other employees.

All these situations warrant solutions but not in the traditional way. In such situations, everyone wants to secure his rights especially when he feels that the other party has committed an injustice. Subsequently, the victim approaches the court of law to seek justice.

However, many litigants prefer not to approach the court because of their reluctance to be stuck in court for long periods of time due to the multitude of cases and the complexity of prolonged court procedures plus the attitude of many judges who take the utmost care in examining the merits of a case before pronouncing judgment. Therefore, many litigants instead prefer a means of reconciliation with an adversary through an out of court settlement so as to avoid long and complicated court procedures.

For these reasons and for a multitude of labor issues, Minister of Labor and Social Development Dr. Ahmed Al-Rajhi has introduced to labor disputes a mechanism called “Amicable Solution”. Under this mechanism, the General Department for Settlement will coordinate with the Ministry of Justice to arrange the electronic transfer of cases to labor courts only in the absence of an amicable settlement between the parties involved in the dispute.

The Ministry of Justice will take the initiative to find an amicable solution by selecting those who can broker reconciliation among litigants. The chosen persons should be qualified and well known for their integrity and trustworthiness, and should not have been sentenced in crimes involving violation of honor and honesty. There is a condition that the amicable settlement process should be completed within the prescribed period of time and the case should be referred to the labor court only in the event of not finding a solution within that timeframe. The settlement process should be confidential and it is not permissible for the person who engages in reconciliation to disclose any information even after completion of his assignment unless there is a legal or statutory requirement to do so.

The rules also include that meetings will not be held without the consent of the parties involved in the dispute, and that the medium of negotiations should be Arabic with the support of approved interpreters from within the ministry or outside if any of the parties does not have proficiency in the Arabic language. It is also permissible for the Department for Amicable Settlement to seek the support of experts, specialists and professionals who can contribute to the settlement of labor disputes.

The rules and procedures governing the amicable settlement also provide for the establishment of “Amicable Settlement Departments” in all labor offices, entrusted with settling disputes before referring them to labor courts. These departments deal with five types of disputes: Disputes pertaining to contracts of work, wages, rights, work injuries and compensation; disputes related to being fired; disputes concerned with the employer’s disciplinary actions against a worker; disputes pertaining to workers who are subjected to the provisions of the Labor Law, and disputes arising from the application of the provisions of the Labor Law and its Executive Regulations.

Under the new mechanism, competent labor offices should submit the suit to the concerned labor courts electronically in the event that no settlement is reached during the stipulated period of time. The rules also stipulate that the first session of the court should be held within a period not exceeding 10 working days from the date of the registration of the case. Using the new mechanism, labor offices across the Kingdom will have a period of 21 days to find an amicable settlement.

What may need to be reexamined in these rules is the provision on how to deal with the parties involved in the dispute. The rule states that if the plaintiff is absent from a session for amicable settlement, the case shall be kept in a record. On the other hand, if the employer is absent from attending the first session, all his computer services will be immediately halted until he attends the session, and if his absence continues, his worker shall be allowed to transfer his services to another employer.

There is no doubt that the mechanism for an amicable settlement of disputes is a positive step as it reduces the burden on labor courts provided that the appropriate rules are applied in a proper manner.

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at algham@hotmail.com


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