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Durban - The eThekwini Municipality has been criticised by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) for appealing against a case, which now has massive financial implications for it, when the matter was of only “academic interest”.
This was the view of Appeal Court Judge Visvanathan Ponnan, with four judges concurring, in the matter in which the court dismissed an appeal brought by the city against a Labour Appeal Court judgment.
The case, brought by the South African Municipal Workers’ Union and the Independent Municipal and Allied Trade Union, involved a divisional agreement about conditions of service that was the subject of a dispute between the unions and the city in 2007.
The unions argued that the agreement was flawed as it involved the removal of benefits and went beyond its permitted scope. The agreement was declared null and void by the Labour Appeal Court in 2011, but the city took it on appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The unions state that owing to the appeal being dismissed, the city has to back-pay 20 000 employees, dating from six years ago. Also, about 5 000 workers, who benefited from the agreement, would be liable to pay back about R11m.
The Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal on September 17, but only handed down its reasons recently.
Judge Ponnan said the city had persisted with bringing the matter to court despite the divisional agreement ending last March.
“The matter then became academic because no practical effect or result could be achieved in this case.”
He said the city had argued it was pursuing the appeal, even after March last year, because of the ramifications of the case, but it had known them since 2007.
He added that the city took a year from October 2011 to lodge documents with the court.
“It initially sought an extension until February 2012 because a ‘possible settlement’ was being negotiated. Thereafter three more extensions were sought and the record was only filed in November 2012.”
He also stressed that the city had pursued the appeal despite earlier judgments that stated the Supreme Court of Appeal could not interfere with Labour Appeal Court decisions unless there were special circumstances and there were none in this case.
The city’s Thabo Mofokeng said it would call a press conference today to clarify the court ruling.