Farm worker unfairly dismissed after Swedish magazine interview
The Cape Town Labour Court has sent Claudine van Wyk’s case back to the CCMA
- Claudine van Wyk, a wine farm worker, was fired in October 2020 after she gave an interview to a Swedish magazine.
- The Cape Town Labour Court has ruled that her dismissal was substantially and procedurally unfair and sent it back to the CCMA.
- Acting Judge Riyaaz Parker took two years to deliver the judgment.
It has taken two years for an acting judge in the Cape Town Labour Court to come to the aid of a Cape wine farm worker, who was fired after she gave an interview to a Swedish journalist about her working conditions.
Acting Judge Riyaaz Parker heard the matter in June 2021. He only handed down judgment this week.
He ruled that the dismissal of Claudine van Wyk in October 2020 was both substantially and procedurally unfair. He directed that her case be reconsidered by the CCMA, but by another commissioner.
The judgment was flagged as one of two outstanding judgments that Parker had on a recently released list by the Office of the Chief Justice. Both had been outstanding for more than 18 months at that time. In his judgment, he did not give any reasons for the delay.
Van Wyk, who was represented by the Commercial Stevedoring Agricultural and Allied Workers Union, was employed as a contract general worker by W & E Boerdery, a company which exports wine to Europe.
She gave an interview to a Swedish journalist in 2019 about her working and living conditions. Other workers also spoke to the journalist.
In August that year, the journalist published the interview in a Swedish Magazine under the headline “Farm workers paying the prize (sic) for cheap South African wine”.
It was accompanied by a photograph of Van Wyk holding up her payslip showing she earned only R684.
Judge Parker said the content of the article seemed to create the impression that she was not being paid in accordance with the statutory applicable minimum wage.
The journalist did not give Van Wyk an opportunity to proofread the contents.
The company was alerted to the article by one of its Swedish clients. It said its reputation had been tarnished and it had lost sales of some 380,000 litres of wine because of it.
The company charged her with giving a false statement and false information.
She was found guilty after an internal disciplinary hearing and dismissed.
Van Wyk approached the CCMA, where the commissioner ruled that her dismissal was both procedurally and substantively fair, confirming her dismissal in October 2020.
But Judge Parker, in his ruling on the review application, said the union, on Van Wyk’s behalf, had submitted that the chairperson had failed to understand the reason for the dismissal, had not adopted a critical approach to the evidence, and had failed to examine the truthfulness of the comments to the journalist.
The commissioner had also failed to take into account that only Van Wyk had been dismissed when others had been involved in the interview.
Under oath, Van Wyk had said she never gave any false information to the journalist; she merely answered the questions posed to her.
The judge said the journalist had sent an email to the managing director of the company, saying the paragraph complained of had been misinterpreted and had subsequently been changed.
“It was not a direct quotation from Van Wyk but rather an attempt at describing the distressing situation wherein farm workers find themselves and the lack of other viable employment options,” the journalist wrote.
The judge said the fact that the journalist had misconstrued the information and published incorrect facts was conduct for which Van Wyk could not be held accountable.
“There was no evidence to back up the finding by the commissioner that Van Wyk had wanted to create the perception that the company was not paying properly,” he said.
“The commissioner did not apply his mind properly,” he said, ruling that this amounted to a “gross irregularity”.
He set aside the CCMA ruling and ordered that another commissioner consider the evidence.
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