The North Gauteng High Court was packed with Transnet pensioners on Monday as lawyers applied for permission to launch a class action on behalf of more than 62 000 pensioners.
The pensioners want to take government and their pension fund to task over the measly 2 percent annual increase they have received over nearly a decade.
These pensioners – many of whom are cash-strapped and can barely put food on the table – want to take government to task over its failed promises to make a cash injection of R1.9 billion into the Transnet Second Defined Benefit Fund (TSDBF). They also want the court to declare the annual 2 percent increase to be declared unconstitutional.
Two pensioners – Johan Pretorius and Johan Kruger – launched the application, but they first have to obtain permission from the court for their case to be heard on behalf of all the other pensioners.
The alternative will be for each of the more than 62 000 pensioners to individually lodge their own cases, which will be an impossible task, Jaap Cilliers SC told Judge Ephraim Makgoba.
If the court approves the application, this will be the start of one of the biggest class actions to date in the country.
If Judge Makgoba gives the go-ahead for the class action, the next step in the legal process will be a further application on the actual merits of the claims of the pensioners.
The TSDBF, the Transport Pension Fund, Transnet, as well as the ministers of finance and public enterprises, are cited as respondents in the application.
The group wants to claim nearly R70bn in assets and interest from Transnet.
Cilliers on Monday told Judge Makgoba that in his opinion, the pensioners had an arguable case and that the conduct of government towards them should come under scrutiny in court.
He said for years the pensioners had a reasonable expectation that they would receive inflation-related increases, which did not happen. They were told that they would not receive anything more than 2 percent.
It is claimed that Transnet wanted to dissolve the pension fund and alienate it from its assets. A R800 million surplus was earlier paid to Transnet, leaving the pension fund cash-strapped. Cilliers said both the high court and the appeal court declared the practice of paying a surplus back to an employer as being illegal.
“We say we have a prima facie case. Let’s take this case to court and let the court decide,” Cilliers said.
Counsel acting on behalf of the two pension funds, opposed the application for the court to allow the class action.
Judge Makgoba questioned why the pension funds were opposing the class action, but was told by counsel that it simply did not have the money to pay and if ordered to do so, it would drive it to bankruptcy.
Transnet, in opposing the application, said a class action was only to be instituted in extraordinary circumstances.