Women and Justice: Court: Labor Appeal Court of South Africa (Arbeidsappèlhof van Suid Afrika)

Domestic Case Law

Ekhamanzi Springs Ltd. v. Mnomiya Labor Appeal Court of South Africa (Arbeidsappèlhof van Suid Afrika) (2014)


Employment discrimination, Gender discrimination

The respondent was employed by the appellant to bottle Aquelle spring water. The appellant’s plant was located on property belonging to a religious mission, and to gain access to the workplace, the appellant’s employees had to cross the mission’s property. The mission’s security guards were instructed to bar entry to any persons who did not comply with its code of conduct; one provision, for example, prohibited “amorous relationships between any two persons outside of marriage”. The respondent and a colleague were denied access because they became pregnant outside of marriage. Consequently, the respondent and her colleague were not able to access the workplace, as they were refused access to the mission’s property. They were subsequently fired. The court ruled that the dismissal of the respondent employee was automatically unfair because she had been dismissed for her pregnancy. The court noted that all persons have a constitutional right to equality. Discriminatory dismissals, such as this one, are accordingly automatically unfair and higher compensation is allowed in such cases. Employers are obliged to avoid discriminating against employees directly or indirectly ̶ protection against being discriminated against on the ground of pregnancy is not a preserve of married women. An agreement that denies pregnant employees access to the workplace is accordingly prima facie unenforceable unless it can be justified on grounds consistent with constitutional norms. The mission’s code of conduct interfered with the employment relationship between the appellant and its employees and created a situation in which breaches could lead to dismissal. Such provisions blurred the line between the appellant’s terms and conditions of employment and the mission’s code. That the employee was not a party to the mission’s code proved decisive. As lessee, the appellant had legal remedies to compel the mission to allow full use and enjoyment of the leased property. The appellant’s faint plea of operational necessity could not serve as a defense because it had failed to exercise its rights as lessee to protect its pregnant employees. The employee had tendered her services, and the appellant’s refusal to accept the tender constituted a breach of contract. The court further held that the appellant’s acquiescence in the mission’s discriminatory practice of barring unwed pregnant women from the leased premises violated the appellant’s constitutional duty to treat its employees fairly and was a breach of its common law duty to accept the employees into service. The court, therefore, confirmed that the employee had been dismissed and that her dismissal was automatically unfair. The court also confirmed the remedy of 12 months’ compensation.

Die respondent is in die diens van die appêlant om Aquelle water te bottel. Die appêlant se aanleg was op eiendom wat aan 'n godsdienstige sending behoort, en om toegang tot die werksplek te verkry, moes die appêlant se werknemers die sending se eiendom oorsteek. Die sending se sekuriteitswagte is opdrag gegee om toegang te verbied aan enige persone wat nie aan hul gedragskode voldoen het nie; een bepaling, byvoorbeeld, het "verliefde verhoudings tussen enige twee persone buite die huwelik" verbied. Die respondent en 'n kollega is toegang geweier omdat hulle buite die huwelik swanger geraak het. Gevolglik was die respondent en haar kollega nie in staat om toegang tot die werksplek te verkry nie. Aangesien hulle toegang tot die missie se eiendom geweier is is hulle is daarna afgedank. Die hof het beslis dat die ontslag van die respondent werknemer outomaties onregverdig was omdat sy vir haar swangerskap ontslaan is. Die hof het kennis geneem dat alle persone 'n grondwetlike reg tot gelykheid het. Diskriminerende afdankings, soos hierdie een, is dienooreenkomstig outomaties onregverdig en hoër vergoeding word toegelaat in sulke gevalle. Werkgewers is verplig om te verhoed dat daar diskriminasie is teen werknemers, direk of indirek - beskerming teen diskriminasie op die grond van swangerskap is nie 'n bewaar van getroude vrouens nie. 'n ooreenkoms wat verwagtende werknemers se toegang tot die werksplek ontken is gevolglik prima facie-onafdwingbaar tensy dit geregverdig kan word op grond wat met grondwetlike norme bestaanbaar is. Die sending se gedragskode het met die werksverhouding tussen die appêlant en sy werknemers ingemeng en 'n situasie geskep waarin oortredings tot ontslag kan lei. Sodanige bepalings vervaag die lyn tussen die appêlant se bepalings en voorwaardes van indiensneming en die sending se kode. Dat die werknemer nie 'n party tot die sending se kode was nie, was beslissend. As huurder het die appêlant regsmiddels gehad om die sending te dwing om volle gebruik en genot van die gehuurde eiendom toe te laat. Die appêlant se dowwe pleidooi van operasionele noodsaaklikheid kon nie dien as 'n verdediging nie omdat dit versuim het om sy regte as huurder om sy swanger werknemers te beskerm uit te oefen. Die werknemer het haar dienste aangebied, en die appêlant se weiering om die aanbod te aanvaar het 'n skending van die kontrak saamgestel. Die hof het verder bevind dat die appêlant se vrywaring in die diskriminerende praktyk van die missie om ongewenste swanger vroue van die gehuurde perseel te belet. Die appellant se grondwetlike plig om sy werknemers billik te behandel is geskend en dat dit ‘n oortreding van sy gemeenregtelike plig was om die werknemers in diens te neem. Die hof het dus bevestig dat die werknemer ontslaan is en dat haar ontslag outomaties onregverdig was. Die hof het ook die regsmiddel van 12 maande se vergoeding bevestig.