Police acted unfairly, Labour Court hears

2012-11-08 17:17
Bernard van der Westhuizen (Picture: Sapa)

Bernard van der Westhuizen (Picture: Sapa)

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Johannesburg - The police's employment equity plan was unilaterally changed and by the wrong individual, the Johannesburg Labour Court heard on Thursday.

"There was a plan and it was changed unilaterally... and the change led to unfair discrimination of my client," said lawyer Corné Goosen.

He was representing the trade union Solidarity in its challenge to the police's refusal to promote Lieutenant Colonel Bernard van der Westhuizen on the grounds of gender.

Goosen referred to an instruction issued in 2009 by the then national police commissioner Bheki Cele.

In October that year, the SA Police Service head office issued a letter to all its departments instructing them to review all promotions from level eight upwards, to achieve gender equality.

Van der Westhuizen had been employed since 1988, and worked in the police's information and systems management division.

On 26 June 2009, eight positions in this unit were advertised. Van der Westhuizen applied for the post of system manager of business intelligence.

Interviews were held in August 2009 and he was recommended as the only suitable candidate for appointment.

That October, the instruction was issued by Cele following a meeting with his deputies.

Goosen argued that Cele exercised the authority above Constitutional principle, and that it was not his job to do so.

According to the Constitution, the minister of safety and security was responsible for the employment equity plan, and the national commissioner for executing it, said Goosen.

"The final say doesn't rest with the national commissioner... it lies with the minister of safety and security.... This amounts to an unfair act."

After Cele issued the instruction, the panel responsible for filling posts met to review its recommendations in light of the new instruction.

In November 2009, the recommendation to appoint Van der Westhuizen was rejected, and an instruction was given to re-advertise the post.

The court heard that the initial police ratio plan -- for the job level Van der Westhuizen was on -- was 70 percent male and 30 female representation. This was then changed on Cele's instruction.

Solidarity said 69 other posts were also withdrawn and re-advertised because of the affirmative action policy.

Admitted discrimination

Lawyer for the SAPS, Nazeer Cassim, admitted to the court there was discrimination against Van Der Westhuizen.

"Yes, it is discrimination but it is justified as the employment equity act seeks to address [other] discriminations," Cassim said.

"Yes, he did not get the job because of the equity plan and not any other reason."

Van Der Westhuizen's case was repeatedly compared in court to a similar case involving Captain Renate Barnard. In 2005, Barnard applied for a lieutenant colonel position in the National Evaluation Service. She was shortlisted and interviewed with six other candidates, and it was found that she was the best candidate. Despite this, no one was appointed to the post.

A year later, Barnard applied for the same position with two black candidates. She was recommended as the most suitable candidate, but former police commissioner Jackie Selebi vetoed the decision.

Barnard then went to the Labour Court and won. The court ruled that the failure to appoint Barnard compromised service delivery.

The police appealed against the decision and the Labour Appeals Court ruled that the purpose of employment equity was misunderstood and that white women were over-represented at the job level to which Barnard sought promotion.

Barnard planned to take the matter to the Supreme Court of Appeal, said Solidarity. No court date had been set yet.

At court, Goosen pointed out differences between Van der Westhuizen's case and Barnard's case. He said there were constitutional issues in Barnard's case that were not investigated, and this was problematic.

Both cases might be taken to the Constitutional Court, he said.

Van der Westhuizen's case was postponed pending a ruling in the Barnard case.

Read more on:    police  |  johannesburg  |  labour

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