By Reon Janse van Rensburg
People lose their jobs on a daily basis – sometimes for valid reasons and sometimes because people made wrong decisions. This is not always the case, though. Sometimes terrible things happen to innocent people in the workplace. It is the pride and passion of each Solidarity litigant who takes on every member’s case that has merit to pursue the matter and to defend the member’s rights to the best of his or her ability. It is sometimes with great sadness that a case is lost but when Solidarity intervenes on behalf of its members and obtains favourable results then the joy is all the more rewarding. This also happened in the case of Mr Du Toit, a Solidarity member for many years.
Mariesa Jansen van Rensburg is a passionate litigant who represents Solidarity members in their workplace, at the CCMA and sometimes in the Labour Court without hesitation. It is true that every Solidarity employee sees his or her job as a calling, rather than an ordinary job. It is with this sound ethos guiding her that Mariesa represented and assisted a member in his case against his employer. After all, our job is to protect your job!
Mr Du Toit started to work for the Kuruman Municipality (later the John Taolo Gaetsewe Municipality) in the Northern Cape in 1986. He worked for the municipality for 16 years. On 31 December 2002 his whole life changed dramatically when his employment was terminated as part of promoting employment equity.
In terms of Mr Du Toit’s employment contract the municipality was obliged to carry on paying 70% of Mr Du Toit medical aid until death. For about 14 years the municipality complied with the agreement, but then at the beginning of 2017 it stopped making payments to the medical aid without notifying the member. Three months later the member was contacted by the medical fund informing him that he was in arrears and that he should immediately settle the arrears otherwise his membership would be suspended.
To aggravate matters Mr Du Toit’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer at the time and she had to get urgent treatment for the condition. In this case, a suspension of the medical aid would have been catastrophic.
It was also during this time that Mr Du Toit approached Solidarity. The Legal Department instituted legal action to enforce the agreement. However, the agreement stipulated that the dispute had to be mediated through private arbitration. The Cape Bar then appointed an arbitrator and arbitration took place on 7 October 2019.
The municipality argued that it was no longer obliged to make payment because the medical scheme’s rules prohibit it from doing so given the reason for the termination of employment.
The arbitrator also found that there were no factors preventing the municipality from complying with the agreement and ordered it to reimburse the member for the arrears together with interest on each premium. The total outstanding amount came to R211 485,40. Moreover, the municipality was also ordered to continue to pay 70% of the member’s monthly premiums.
The litigants involved in this arbitration case, namely Mariesa Jansen van Rensburg and Annika Labuschagne, explain that this case stands out for them for the very reason that Solidarity members are being exploited for affirmative action purposes. Those are events that cannot be attributed to a member’s own doing. This victory means a great deal to Solidarity as Mr Du Toit and his wife had to endure a severe financial crisis while facing a serious medical crisis on top of it all.
It was very encouraging for Solidarity to once again experience how the legal system can be used to make a difference in someone’s life.