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The already cash-strapped Eden District municipality is facing further financial woes after being ordered to pay close to R600 000 to 11 former interns for unfair dismissal.
And to make matters worse, there are also other cases of unfair dismissals pending against the municipality.
The expensive blow for the DA-led Western Cape municipality comes after the SA Local Government Bargaining Council ruled in two dispute cases in favour of the 11 interns, who were fired by the municipality last year.
The intern project was initiated by the previous ANC council when the party was still in government in the Eden district.
The students approached the bargaining council, claiming their contracts were illegal terminated. The municipality was in the end ordered to pay each intern R54 000.
Municipal manager Godfrey Louw said the municipality was appealing the decision, and had already embarked on a review process.
“The case is sub judice and, at this stage, no money will be paid out until the review has been finalised.”
The Eden municipality has laid the blame for the dismissal saga at the door of the former ANC-led council and its then acting municipal manager, Morne Hoogbaard.
Louw issued a statement following the bargaining council ruling publicly blaming his predecessor for the dismissals.
“Hoogbaard was the acting municipal manager and he gave instructions to the human resources section in May, 2011 to cancel all intern contracts as of June 30, 2011.”
Hoogbaard, he added, should therefore provide proof that he did not give the instruction as no other person had had the authority to give such an instruction.
Hoogbaard has hit back, accusing Louw of having a vendetta against him after Louw was found guilty in 2010 by an internal disciplinary hearing of fruitless and wasteful expenditure – for paying a DA legal bill of more than R200 000 from state coffers. The finding was upheld after Louw appealed to the bargaining council.
But Louw insists that Hoogbaard is the culprit in the interns matter.
He said most of the intern contracts ended on June 30 last year, and were not renewed.
He added that the municipality issued letters to all affected staff a month prior to the end of their contracts reminding them of the terms.
“This decision was not taken by me,” Louw said.
A copy of one of the dismissal letters is in the possession of our sister paper, Weekend Argus. It does not carry Hoogbaard’s signature, but that of a junior official allegedly signing on his behalf.
Hoogbaard claimed that when Louw took over as municipal manager, “one of the first things he did was to sack more than 50 interns and temporary workers”.
He added that he had instructed his legal representative to institute a defamation suit against Louw and the municipality.