Cape Town – 131018 – From left to right in uniform, Geo-Nita Baartman, Christopher February, Teresa Abrahams and Derik Wehr celebrates today’s victory. Nine members of the Department of Correctional Services where seeking justice at the Labour Court in Cape Town regarding equal employment opportunity after being exposed to unfair discrimination. Reporter: Leila Samodien. Photographer: Armand Hough

Cape Town - The correctional services department will study a judgment forcing it to abide by an earlier ruling on employment equity before planning its next step, it said on Thursday.

The Cape Town Labour Court earlier ruled that it had to abide by an order in October to consider both national and regional demographics in recruiting and promoting staff.

The department argued that the ruling need not be implemented as it had launched an appeal.

Judge Anton Steenkamp said the court's previous ruling in favour of trade union Solidarity would be implemented and enforced pending the appeal.

“Should the court order be implemented pending appeal, service delivery will not be adversely affected,” Steenkamp said in his judgment.

“On the other hand, should permanent appointments be made with regard to national demographics only, coloured employees and applicants for appointment will be irreparably compromised.”

Correctional services spokesman Manelisi Wolela said it was important to note that it had always given due regard to “regional needs” when making appointments.

He said coloureds made up 28 percent of their learnership intake for the Western Cape in 2011/12.

“This figure has increased to 50 percent for the financial year 2013/14. This is clearly an indication that the department has always taken regional needs into account.”

Wolela said it was therefore their belief that elements of the court decision might be for academic purposes.

Solidarity approached the court last month for urgent interim relief after it seemed the department had advertised 195 permanent positions, for which some of its coloured members had applied. It had enrolled 194 applicants into a learnership programme.

Steenkamp said it initially seemed no coloured people would be eligible for learnerships. It was only in a last-minute affidavit, handed in on Monday, that the department informed the court that it had decided to deviate from its equity plan for, at least, the racial distribution of people in its learnership programme.

The court ruling in October was applicable at all levels of the department's work force.

The department had only used national demographic targets - 79.3 percent black, 8.8 percent coloured, 9.3 percent white, and 2.5 percent Indian.

Judge Hilary Rabkin-Naicker ruled in favour of 10 Western Cape correctional services officials who had challenged the department's employment equity plan.

Initially five officials challenged the department and they were followed by another five who had been overlooked for promotion because of their race. The judge ruled that all 10 officials should benefit from restitutionary measures created by the Employment Equity Act and the right to equality under the Constitution.

Rabkin-Naicker found they had suffered unfair discrimination in the selection process used for promotion to various posts.

On Thursday, the affected correctional services employees cheered and punched their fists in the air upon hearing the order.

Outside court, the department's deputy regional commissioner Freddie Engelbrecht, who had previously testified on the difficulty of being promoted, said he was happy with the order.

“They can say they are not discriminating but they are. It's a fact. We are saying it's for our children, grandchildren. And it's not just for coloured people but for all minorities, including white people,” he said.