MISHECK MABEZA v SANDVIK MINING AND CONSTRUCTION (PRIVATE) LIMITED SC91/19

“It is therefore clear to the naked eye that he could not lodge a complaint with the labour officer alleging unfair dismissal. The labour officer would not have the jurisdiction to entertain any complaint from the appellant as what the appellant was seeking was the setting aside of the determination of the disciplinary process. This process could only be set aside through an appeal or a review. The process before the labour officer was none of the above.”

INTRODUCTION

The National Code[1] provides that if one is aggrieved by an internal appeal result one may refer such a matter to a Labour Officer. Once this dispute has been referred as such, section 93 of the Labour Act will apply.[2] At face value, the national code seems to suggest that labour officers have the jurisdiction to hear appeals from disciplinary hearings held in terms of the national code. This is not correct; the Supreme Court has spoken!

The fundamental principles in Misheck Mabeza v Sandvik Mining and Construction (Private) Limited have far-reaching consequences but until this change, these will continue to determine how appeals in terms of the national code will be handled.

FACTS

The brief facts of this matter are that the employee, Misheck Mabeza was accused of failing to adhere to an instruction given by his employer. He was charged and dismissed for this failure in terms of the national code of conduct. Internal appeals upheld the dismissal. He lodged a claim of unfair dismissal with a labour officer under the Ministry Of Labour. Conciliation failed as per the dispute resolution mechanism that was applicable, the matter was referred for compulsory arbitration whereupon the arbitrator concluded that the dismissal was unfair. An appeal was lodged at the labour court by the respondent company. The labour court concluded that the employee had committed the offence and set aside the arbitral award.  Aggrieved by the LC ruling, the appellant employee mounted the SC challenge.

THE COURTS REASONING

Section 101(5) and (6) of the Labour Act

The court assessed section 101(5)[3] and (6)[4] of the Labour Act. It concluded that appealing against a hearing to a labour officer will not be proper in terms of the labour act. The labour officer, the court argued, should not entertain a completed hearing. In other words, labour officers do not have the jurisdiction to hear appeals or reviews of disciplinary hearings.

This argument by the court was summed up in its pronouncement that:

            “In my view, the principle emerging from all the authorities referred to          above can be summarized by the statement to the effect that a         labour officer does not have any jurisdiction under s 93 to entertain a       matter once a determination on the merits has been made through a     disciplinary process under a registered code of conduct. It is clear that    in this case the labour officer presided over a matter over which he did       not have any jurisdiction.”

In summary, labour officers do not have appeal or review jurisdiction over matters emanating from a disciplinary hearing held in terms of the National Code.

Failure to adhere to an instruction lawfully issued

On the merits, the court made an important finding that the employee had deliberately failed to execute an instruction from his employer. The propriety of the charge and resultant dismissal was in the result not questioned.

Own Comment

I fully understand this judgement from the fact that the National Code is a delegated legislation enacted by the Minister in terms of section 101(9)[5] of the Labour Act [Chapter 28:01].  In terms of the principles governing subordinate legislation, it is accepted that subordinate legislation must be read and interpreted together with its enabling Act and that the subordinate legislation must not be in conflict with the enabling legislation.[6] It follows that when the subordinate legislation conflicts with the enabling act the court will have no option than to follow the enabling Act.

We submit that the court correctly noted that such an inconsistency between the Labour and the National Code was bad to the extent that no purposive interpretation can cure it to allow a labour officer to exercise appellate jurisdiction over matter emanating from completed hearing proceedings.


[1]           See section 8(6) of Labour (National Employment Code of Conduct) Regulations, 2006

[2]           See section 8(7) of Labour (National Employment Code of Conduct) Regulations, 2006

[3]           Section 101(5) of the Labour Act reads: “Notwithstanding this Part, but subject to subsection (6), no labour officer shall intervene in any dispute or matter which is or is liable to be the subject of proceedings under an employment code, nor shall he intervene in any such proceedings”.

[4]           Section 101(6) of the Labour Act reads: “If a matter is not determined within thirty days of the date of the notification referred to in paragraph (e) of subsection (3), the employee or employer concerned may refer such matter to a labour officer, who may then determine or otherwise dispose of the matter in accordance with section ninety-three.”

[5]           Section 101(9) of the Labour Act reads: The Minister may, after consultation with    representatives of trade unions and employers organizations, by statutory instrument publish a model employment code   of conduct.

[6]           Botha CJ Statutory interpretation: an introduction for students (Juta) 2012.

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3 thoughts on “MISHECK MABEZA v SANDVIK MINING AND CONSTRUCTION (PRIVATE) LIMITED SC91/19”

  1. Misheck Mabeza vs Sandvik is a very interesting case! Does the foregoing judgement not leave employees vulnerable especially if management decides to victimize the employee and dismisses him through a disciplinary hearing? I think the Labour Officer has the right to look at procedural fairness even though the employee has been dismissed through a disciplinary hearing.
    What happens if the company dismisses the employee through its registered Company Code of Conduct? Does the Company Code hold similar powers as the National Code of Conduct?

  2. My fear with this judgement is that it seeks to remove the jurisdiction of Labour Officers over labour matters. Conciliation is a vital process to dispute resolution and so is arbitration. Their removal will create a vacuum in dispute resolution which in other jurisdiction is proving useful. Appearing before a Labour Officer is very sobering and reduces tensions you find during the hearing. But labour officers and NEC Designated Agents were not fully utilising conciliation, I am sure something will be done following the Zimoco vs Memory Darikwa Constitutional Court case CCZ 6/20

  3. my question is then one one goes to the labor officer and the labor officer isses an award and then the case goes to labor court and the and raises the point that the labor officer has no jurisdiction to rule on the case ,what then should one do or how would the case proceed?

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