Cape town - An ex-plumber who contracted Hepatitis B while working on a ship appeared in the Western Cape High Court on Tuesday to hear whether he would finally be granted workplace compensation.

Nazeem Mallie, 46, had been a civilian pipe-fitter for the defence department since 1999 and applied for compensation in 2005, after the virus was picked up in a routine medical examination the year before.

He believed he contracted the disease while working with untreated sewage, through regular cuts on his hands.

The ships he worked on often travelled to the Congo, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, areas which had a high prevalence of the virus.

The compensation commissioner turned down the application because Hepatitis was not listed as an occupational disease in the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act (COIDA).

Mallie then lodged an objection in November 2007 and the case appeared before a tribunal.

The matter deadlocked after two assessors came to a different view than the presiding officer.

In terms of the act, the presiding officer should have forwarded the dispute to the Supreme Court for a decision.

But according to trade union Solidarity, who picked up Mallie's cause, the case had “dragged” on and it was only through trade union pressure that the matter was heard in court on Tuesday.

PA Swanepoel, for the respondents, told the court on Tuesday that a “troublesome” provision of COIDA had prevented cases from reaching a conclusion because of confusion over the presiding officer and DG's powers and roles.

The act called for the DG to appear before a court and state his case based on facts and provisions of the law.

Swanepoel said this was impractical because the DG was required to do this when first receiving a claim and then when hearing an objection.

Judge Stephen Koen was asked to provide clarity on the process to be followed in future similar cases.

Swanepoel said there was no objection in this instance to Mallie being granted relief.

He said it was sad that the case had been delayed for eight years and that the legislation, which was created to assist people, had not resulted in compensation.

Koen reserved judgment. - Sapa