Last week in the Constitutional Court, three Coloured employees scored a victory for equality when the court agreed that they had been unfairly discriminated against because of their race.
The men, Theo September; Dean September and Ronald Paulsen, first approached the CCMA in 2011 after they had resigned from their jobs at CMI Business Enterprise CC. Their resignation was due to the fact that they were subjected to multiple instances of racial discrimination.
The men, who were the only employees of colour, performed technical and mechanical duties on mining-related projects and their job required of them to travel to different mining sites. The company’s owner, a certain Mr Cronje, referred to them as h*****e and k*****s, as well as other derogatory terms.
They were also expected to live in inferior accommodation compared to their fellow white workers. Whereas the white workers were provided with separate bathrooms, a kitchen, flat-screen televisions, fridges and kettles; they were forced to sleep in toilets, washrooms and a room used by Cronje’s dogs. He also told them that they could only sit on the back of the bakkie and if they wanted to sit in front, they were told that “a dog should know its place”.
In addition, they were also told that “blacks are animals which have the footprint of a human”. Not satisfied with the verbal and psychological abuse, Cronje also physically assaulted them and they were denied training opportunities, which were available to white employees.
After having failed to resolve the dispute at the CCMA, they approached the Labour Court in 2012 which found that they had been ‘constructively dismissed’. Constructive dismissal is where an employee is forced to resign because of intolerable working conditions. However, Cronje took the matter to the Labour Appeal Court which overturned the judgement of the Labour Court and found in favour of Cronje.
The reason the Appeals court gave for their decision was because they felt that the Labour Court would not have to adjudicate a dismissal dispute if that dispute had not been referred to conciliation. However, the men were not happy with this finding and took the matter to the Constitutional Court.
In a majority judgment by Justice Leona Theron‚ the Constitutional Court found that the Labour Court was right and that the men were constructively dismissed. Cronje’s company was ordered to pay R240 000 for the first and second applicants and R192 000 for the third applicant.