ZACC 45
Judgement Date: 26 November 2019
Post Judgment Media Summary
The following explanatory note is provided to assist the media in reporting this case and is not binding on the Constitutional Court or any member of the Court.
On Tuesday 26 November 2019 at 10h00, the Constitutional Court handed down judgment in an application for leave to appeal against a judgment of the Labour Court.
Central to this application was the question whether, barring claims based on contracts, the Labour Court’s jurisdiction under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 (BCEA), is deferred until a matter has been resolved by a labour inspector, appointed in terms of section 63 of the BCEA. The present claim arose from an alleged breach of section 34 of that Act, which prohibits an employer from making any deduction from an employee’s remuneration, subject to certain specified exceptions.
The applicants are Amalungelo Workers’ Union and 75 of its members, who were employed by Philip Morris South Africa (Pty) Limited and Leonard Dingler (Pty) Limited, the first and second respondents in the proceedings. The applicants alleged that the respondents had, in contravention of section 34 of the BCEA, deducted tax in respect of company cars from their salaries. Based on this allegation, the applicants instituted proceedings in the Labour Court for an order compelling the respondents to refund them the deducted amounts.
Relying on earlier decisions, the Labour Court concluded that it had no jurisdiction to entertain the applicants’ claim. It ruled that it lacked competence to directly enforce provisions of the BCEA in the absence of an assertion that those provisions form part of contractual terms envisaged in section 77(3) of the BCEA.
Dissatisfied with this outcome, the applicants sought leave to appeal but that was also unsuccessful. Their petition to the Labour Appeal Court suffered the same fate for the reason that there were no reasonable prospects of success.
The Constitutional Court decided the matter without oral argument but with the benefit of the parties’ written submissions. In a unanimous judgment penned by Jafta J, the Court held that to determine if the Labour Court has jurisdiction to adjudicate the claim in question, consideration must be given to the proper interpretation of the relevant provisions of the BCEA. In this regard, the Court noted that the provision that addresses the Labour Court’s jurisdiction is section 77 of the BCEA, which was designed to promote access to the Labour Courts in relation to claims based on that Act. The Court further noted that section 77(1) states in unambiguous terms that the Labour Court has exclusive jurisdiction over matters arising from the BCEA. The only exception is in respect of where the Act itself provides otherwise. The Court remarked that what locates a matter within the jurisdiction of the Labour Court is the application of the BCEA. Consequently, all claims to which the BCEA applies fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Labour Court.
Pertaining to whether the BCEA obliged litigants to submit their disputes to labour inspectors before they may approach the Labour Court, the Court pointed out that there was simply no provision in the BCEA which expressly required that disputes be submitted first to labour inspectors before the Labour Court could entertain them. At the time the claim in question arose, none of the functions of labour inspectors covered dispute resolution. Although the BCEA now authorises labour inspectors to refer disputes to the CCMA, this amendment came into effect recently and does not apply to the present case.
The Court held that the Labour Court erred in concluding that it did not have jurisdiction to entertain the applicants’ claim. In the result, the Court granted leave to appeal. The Court then set aside the order of the Labour Court and remitted the matter to the Labour Court.
The Full judgment here