Dismissed employees win in court

2007-12-18 00:00

Umgeni Water is mulling over the implications of losing two unfair dismissal cases in the Labour Court on November 26, while 13 other former employees are ready to go to court too.

Acting Judge R.D. Hendricks ruled that the dismissals of former Human Resources employees Syd Brown and Francois du Toit in November 2004 were flawed “procedurally and substantively”.

The water utility must pay the men a year’s salary at the time of leaving, minus any retrenchment payments. This is the maximum penalty. Umgeni must also pay the men’s legal costs.

According to Brown, Umgeni Water failed to defend its case in court, although the proceedings were witnessed by one of the organisation’s senior Human Resources managers.

“If they weren’t going to contest the matter, why waste money on an expensive court case they had no intention to defend?” he said.

Of concern to Umgeni Water is the fact that a further group of 13 disgruntled former employees are waiting for their day in court.

Spokesman for the Hospersa union, Noel Desfontaines, was optimistic that the utility will now settle these claims by former employees who were mostly retrenched during a series of restructuring exercises in 2003 and 2004.

The restructuring, conducted under former CEO Gugu Moloi and Human Resources supremo Pear Maposhe, unleashed an avalanche of unfair dismissal actions.

Umgeni Water spokesman Shami Harichunder confirmed the Labour Court ruling, but said the court dismissed the applicants’ request for three years’ salary each, and their request to be reinstated.

“It was held that it was not reasonable or practical for Umgeni Water to reinstate or re-employ Brown and Du Toit … ,” he said.

He said the water utility chose not to present oral evidence, but instead handed a comprehensive set of written notes to the court.

“As an organisation that subscribes to fair and equitable labour practice, Umgeni Water accepts the Labour Court’s judgment in its totality,” he said.

However, Harichunder said the facts pertaining to the other cases involving 13 former employees are substantially different from the matter of Brown and Du Toit.

“We are confident that in the matter of the 13 former employees the court will find that Umgeni Water acted correctly… ,” he said.

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