IN THE HIGH COURT OF LESOTHO
In the matter between
LESOTHO BREWING CO. T/A MALUTI
MOUNTAIN BREWERY APPLICANT
LESOTHO LABOUR COURT PRESIDENT 1ST RESPONDENTMIKE
NKUATSANA 2ND RESPONDENT
Delivered by the Honourable Mr. Justice M.M. Ramodibedi
on the 5th day of August 1997.
On the 5th day of December 1995 the Applicant filed an
urgent application with this Honourable Court seeking for an order in
1. Dispensing with the ordinary Rules of this
Honourable Court pertaining to the modes and the periods of service
Directing and ordering that the Award of the Labour
Court CaseNo. LC.47/95 be reviewed, corrected and set aside;
Directing the First Respondent to transmit the record
of theproceedings and a copy of Judgement in the Labour Court
CaseNo. LC47/95 to the Registrar of the above
mentionedHonourable Court within fourteen (14) days of the
receipt ofservice upon them of this process.
Directing Respondents to file their opposing papers if
any,within seven (7) days of service upon them of the Court
Order,Notice of this Application and Affidavit thereto.
Directing that the execution of Judgement of the Labour
Courtincase No. LC47/95 be stayed pending the finalisation of
6. A Rule Nisi be issued and returnable within seven (7)
days ofservice calling upon the Respondents to show cause, if
a. The Award by the Labour Court in Case LC.47/95
shallnot be reviewed, corrected and set aside;
b. The strict compliance with the Rules of this
HonourableCourt shall not be dispensed with;
c. Further and/or alternative relief shall not be
That prayer 1,2,3,4, and 5 operate with immediate
effect as anInterim Order;
Directing Respondents to pay costs hereof if they
Granting Applicant further and/or alternative relief."
A Rule Nisi was duly granted as prayed on the same day
and after several postponements and extensions of the Rule the matter
argued before me on 22nd May 1997.
A brief background leading to this application shows
that in January 1994 the 2nd Respondent while an employee of the
to Swaziland either on official business
according to Applicant's version or on a training course according to
the 2nd Respondent.
I do not think however that the exact nature of
the trip matters for the purposes of the exercise before me. What
matters is that
the 2nd Respondent was admittedly given advance money
by the Applicant and was "required to produce receipts for
There is no dispute about this.
The Applicant's version is that the advance money
referred to above was "to cover the costs of the meeting."
The 2nd Respondent
however insists that the money was "an
allowance." Once more I do not think however that anything turns
on this minor difference
in versions. Because of the 2nd Respondent's
aforesaid admission that he was required to produce receipts for
expenditure I am satisfied
that the expenditure was accountable by
the 2nd Respondent.
What then happened is that the 2nd Respondent bought
himself, amongst others, a watch, a belt and a handbag. Again this is
cause. This episode led to a disciplinary charge being
levelled against the 2nd Respondent on an allegation of
of an allowance given to you whilst on
training." The hearing thereof was conducted on the 28th March
1994 and it was presided
over by one Mr. J. Steenberg who was
Applicant's Production Manager. He sat with the Industrial relations
Manager. One M. Tente who
featured as Human Resources Representative
acted as prosecutor. The 2nd Respondent appeared in person.
According to the record of proceedings Annexture "C"
the 2nd Respondent was duly 'read his rights and the charge."
is recorded as having indicated that he did not wish to have a
representative and also that he had no witnesses. Most importantly
the record shows that the 2nd Respondent then pleaded guilty and was
accordingly found guilty as charged. He was then dismissed on
month's notice. This was on the same day namely the 28th March 1994.
It is further significant that when asked if he wished
to appeal against the decision the 2nd Respondent is recorded as
that he did not wish to appeal. I shall return to
this aspect later.
It was only Eight months later and apparently on the
advice of the Department of Labour that the 2nd Respondent pursued
purportedly within the Applicant's rules and procedures.
As will appear later he was, however, clearly out of time.
the Labour Court falls directly under this Department.
The "appeal" was dismissed in November 1994.
Then on 31st March 1995 which was more than twelve
months after the 2nd
Respondent's dismissal the latter filed an application
with the Labour Court seeking for an order in the following terms:
"a) Condoning applicant (sic) late filing (if any)
of this application.
b) Setting aside the purported dismissal of applicant
Directing respondent to reinstate applicant with full
pay fromthe date of dismissal including the bonuses and all
Directing the respondent to pay interest at the rate of
11% perannum from the date of dismissal.
Directing the respondent to pay costs of this
After hearing submissions from Mr. Mpopo for the 2nd
Respondent and Miss Tente for the Applicant the 1 st Respondent set
dismissal of the 2nd Respondent as unfair and ordered the
Applicant to compensate the latter as follows :-
"(i) Payment of monthly salary from the 8th
November 1994, which was the day of the appeal hearing to the date of
(ii) Payment of six months salary as compensation.
(iii) All payments to be calculated at the rate of pay
that applicant was earning at the time of his purported dismissal.
(iv) The above payments are to be made within thirty
(30) days of the handing down of this judgment."
I should mention that the 1st Respondent's reasons for
holding the 2nd Respondent's dismissal unfair were stated in his
follows namely that:-
"(1) Applicant did not have a fair hearing because
the chairman of the enquiry was also complainant and witness at the
The so-called disciplinary hearing on the 28th March 1994
is therefore declared a nullity.
Applicant was charged with contravention of a
non-existent orunclear rule. It is inconsistent with the
principle of legality thata person be charged with contravention
of an undeclared rule.
No offence of the kind with which the applicant was
chargedexists under the respondent's disciplinary code. The
offencewas hatched by the complainant who also became judge in
It is against the above mentioned background that the
application before me has been brought. It is sought to persuade the
the dismissal of the 2nd Respondent by the Applicant was
fair both substantively and procedurally and that on the contrary 1st
decision as aforesaid was based on misdirection
and pure speculation that the chairman of the
disciplinary hearing was also complainant and witness at the same
time as well as a
judge in his own cause whereas there was no such
evidence on record.
As will be shown later the 1st Respondent's award is
also attacked on the grounds that it is uncalled for and unfair.
Mr. Mpopo submits that the Applicant has canvassed
appellable grounds and wrongfully turned them into reviewable
grounds. As an example
he refers to paragraph 5 (a) of the
Applicant's founding affidavit in which the latter states as follows:
"The Labour Court President misdirected himself and
erred in deciding that the disciplinary hearing conducted by
unfair allegedly because it was presided over by a
person alleged to be chairman, complainant and witness all at the
It is Mr. Mpopo's submission, if I understand him
correctly, that the use of the word "misdirected"
the matter as one of appeal and not review.
I do not agree. In my view it all depends on the nature of the
of in each particular case. Depending on the
particular circumstances of a case a misdirection may well give rise
to a ground for
In this regard I am mainly attracted by the remarks of
Browde JA in Albert Lithebe Makhutla v Lesotho Agricultural
C of A (Civ)No.1 of 1995 (unreported) to the
"What is not characteristic of an appeal, however,
is the allegation in the Appellant's founding affidavit that the
of the Labour Court went beyond the scope of the issues
which, by agreement, it was called upon to decide and perhaps more
that the Labour Court found facts proved - and specific
reference were made to the recital by the Court in its judgment of
referred to as "the saga that led to his dismissal"
- without evidence of such facts having been led before the Labour
Court. If that is so, and I make no comment thereon, then it was a
misdirection and a procedural irregularity which were properly
for review" (my underlining).
The provisions of Section 38 (1) of the Labour Code
Order 1992 must also be borne in mind in considering an application
such as the
one before me. That Section provides as follows :-
"38. Awards, decisions final; notice
(1) An award or decision of the Court on any matter
referred to it for its decision or on any matter otherwise falling
sole jurisdiction shall be final and binding upon the
parties thereto and on any parties affected thereby, and such award
shall not be the subject of an appeal in any proceedings
There is no doubt in my mind that this is a draconian
section which can very often lead to untold injustice without any
hope of an
appeal to redress it. A review therefore remains the only
remedy to an aggrieved litigant. Accordingly I consider
that the Court needs to adopt a liberal approach in
favour of review application procedure as the only remedy to correct
of the Labour Court in the interests of justice. In
doing so the Court must mainly look to the substance of the complaint
than to form or technicalities.
I turn then to consider whether there is any evidence on
record that the chairman of the disciplinary enquiry namely Mr.
was complainant and witness at the same time as well as a
judge in his own cause.
I should mention straight away that what I find rather
disturbing in this case is that the Labour Court did not hear any
in the matter nor were there any affidavits filed at
all. The Labour Court appears to have relied on the submission of
apparently made conclusions of credibility drawn from
such submissions that Mr. Steenberg was both complainant, witness and
in his own cause. I consider that this is totally unacceptable
and that the Labour Court should have heard evidence either oral or
by affidavit before coming to the conclusions it made. In my judgment
a decision which is based on no evidence altogether is certainly
Section 17 (2) (3) of the Labour Court Rules provides as
follows :-"17 (1)
(2) The Court shall conduct the hearing of an
originating application or appeal in such manner as it considers most
suitable to the
clarification of the issues before it and generally
to the just handling of the proceedings; it shall,
so far as appears to it appropriate, seek to avoid
formality in its proceedings and, subject to the provisions of
section 29(3) of
the Code, it shall not be bound by the rules of
evidence in proceedings before courts of law.
(3) At the hearing of an originating application a party
shall be entitled to appear, to be represented, to give evidence, to
witnesses, to question any witness and to address the Court."
Nor does this Court find that there is any justification
for the following remarks made by the Labour Court in its judgment:
"The unwanted result of making an interested, party
chairman of proceedings in which he has interest is that as Mr.
did, he ends up giving evidence against the accused
employee from the chair. Thus in his letter of dismissal, Mr.
applicant of having "not make me aware of your
purchase at the
time that you asked me to sign your expense claim..."
According to the record of the proceedings this factor was taken as
aggravating factor which influenced the imposition of the penalty
Well as I read the record of proceedings Annexture "C"
there is absolutely no evidence indicating that Mr. Steenberg was
interested party and that he gave evidence "from the chair"
at the disciplinary hearing at all. As earlier stated the
Respondent pleaded guilty and was thus found guilty on his own plea.
Accordingly there cannot be any question of prejudice suffered
for that matter. I am not
surprised therefore that prejudice was neither alleged
nor argued before me at all. Indeed the Labour Court itself states as
on page 4 of its judgment:
"The Applicant had wrongly used the funds given for
a specific purpose."
This is precisely what the Applicant pleaded guilty to.
In my judgment the key word in a case such as this is prejudice. The
will not grant relief where even though there is an
irregularity a litigant has not suffered prejudice thereby. This is
the underlying principle is that the Court is
disinterested in academic situations. See Rajah & Rajah (Pty)
Ltd, v Ventersdorp
Municipality 1961 (4) S.A. 402 (A) at 408.
This Court also feels that the said "letter of
dismissal" referred to by the Labour Court needs to be placed in
context namely that it was written after the disciplinary
hearing in question had already been conducted and after the 2nd
had already been dismissed in terms of Annexture "C".
I consider therefore that the letter was no more than an attempt
place the dismissal on record. The letter in question is Annexture
"D" and it reads:
"28 March 1994
MR. M. NKUATSANA, P.O. BOX 764
You have been found guilty of "misappropriation of
an allowance given to you whilst on training" in the hearing
you this morning.
You have spent M360.00 on personal luxury items i.e. a
watch, handbag and belt without my authority. Your explanation that
aware of the company rules in this regard is not valid.
You did not make me aware of your purchase at the time that you asked
to sign your expense claim nor did you clear it with me a week
later when the Acting Human Resources Manager put out a memo about
the subject of expanses on Business trips (refer to memo attached).
In my capacity as Loss Control Manager you should always
set the perfect example. As custodian of company rules and
conduct must be beyond reproach in all respects,
(refer to letter dated 30th July, 1993 by myself) Management feels
that you have
violated this trust and therefore the sanction for this
offence is dismissal with 1 (one) month's notice.
J.L. STEENBERG Production Manager
cc: Managing Director
Acting Human Resources Manager
Industrial Relations Manager." (My underlining).
In my view what Mr. Steenberg stated in his letter
Annexture "D" after the dismissal in question cannot
justifiably be said
to have amounted to giving evidence by him
leading to the dismissal itself. In the same breath I find that the
Labour Court's view
that Mr. Steenberg's reference in his letter
Annexture "D" to the effect that the 2nd Respondent did not
make him aware
of his purchase at the time of the signing of the
expense claim and that this was "taken as an aggravating factor
the imposition of the penalty of dismissal" is
not supported by any evidence on record. Nor has this Court been able
any evidence on record to
the effect that Mr. Steenberg was the complainant as
alleged by the Labour Court.
I find that the Labour Court grossly and irregularly
misdirected itself by relying on mere gut feeling and pure
speculation in this
regard. It is thus guilty of a gross
irregularity. See Lucy Lerata and 26 others v Scott Hospital C of A
(Civ) No. 38 of 1995 (unreported).
In any event even if I am wrong in the view that I take
of the matter, I consider that administrative tribunals are perfectly
to avail themselves of particular facts within their own
observation. In this regard the remarks of Rose Innes: Judicial
Administrative Tribunals in South Africa at p 165 are
apposite to the case before me. The Learned Author states thereat:
"The duty of disclosure is of great importance to a
just decision of administrative matters, for administrative tribunals
not limited in the way courts of law are by the ordinary rules of
evidence, and may obtain, rely and act upon information from various
sources other than the evidence or statements made before the
tribunal. They may avail themselves of particular facts within their
own observation and expert knowledge, which is much wider than the
strictly circumscribed sphere of judicial notice or knowledge,
they may have regard to the information independently obtained from
outside sources or a private source, whether as evidence
persons not before the tribunal
or as evidence obtained in other proceedings. For an
administrative tribunal to act upon information thus
obtained is not in itself an irregularity."
In my view it is of great significance that none of the
allegations attributed to Mr. Steenberg have in any event been placed
by the 2nd Respondent in this matter. Once more the debate
in this regard can only be of an academic nature which this Court is
It is significant that the Applicant's "Disciplinary
and grievance procedures" empower the worker's supervisor to
a disciplinary enquiry. I consider therefore that Mr.
Steenberg properly presided over the disciplinary enquiry against the
as the latter's supervisor.
I turn next to deal with the Applicant's complaint based
on the actual award itself. In this regard the Applicant states as
in paragraph 5(I)(2) of the founding affidavit of Roger
"The 2nd Respondent does not seem to have done
anything to minimise his "losses" (damages). In fact the
is silent about his (sic) important factor, hence my
contention that the compensation is disproportionately excessive
circumstances and factors of the case into account."
The Applicant continues in the same vein in paragraph
5(m) of Roger Smith's founding affidavit and registers its complaint
ground as follows:-
"Even if the Court President felt sympathy for the
2nd Respondent, he could have awarded his normal terminal benefits as
An invocation of Section 73© (sic) of the Labour Code
which was not canvassed during the trial and which would have given
Applicant an opportunity of rebuttal is uncalled for and
unfair. It is interesting to note that this very section however
that in assessing the amount of compensation account shall
also be taken of whether there has been any breach of contract by
party (2nd Applicant has used company money to but (sic) for
himself a belt, handbag and a watch) and whether the employee has
to take such steps as may be reasonable to mitigate his or her
losses. As I stated before the Court President is very silent on this
crucial issue" (my underlining).
It is significant that the 2nd Respondent has not denied
these damaging allegations at all in his opposing affidavit. I
on the basis of the correctness of those
allegations and in doing so it is also necessary to bear in mind
Section 73 of the Labour
Code Order 1992 which reads thus:-
If the Labour Court holds the dismissal to be unfair,
itshall, if the employee so wishes, order the reinstatementof
the employee in his or her job without loss ofremuneration,
seniority or other entitlements or benefitswhich the employee
would have received had there beenno dismissal. The Court shall
not make such an order ifit considers reinstatement of the
employee to beimpracticable in light of the circumstances.
If the Court decides that it is impracticable in light
circumstances for the employer to reinstate the employee
in employment, or if the employee does not wish reinstatement, the
shall fix an amount of compensation to be awarded to the
employee in lieu of reinstatement. The amount of compensation awarded
the Labour Court shall be such amount as the court considers just
and equitable in all circumstances of the case. In assessing the
amount of compensation to be paid, account shall also be taken of
whether there has been any breach of contract by either party and
whether the employee has failed to take such steps as may be
reasonable to mitigate his or her losses."
As I read this section the award fixed by the Labour
Court is not an arbitrary one but is one premised on just and
in which both parties must certainly be
heard. It was wrong and grossly irregular and unfair for the Labour
Court therefore to merely
consider the point of view of the employee
(2nd Respondent) while totally ignoring that of the employer
In the same breath I find that by being "silent"
on the question whether the 2nd Respondent failed to take such steps
may be reasonable to mitigate his losses the Labour Court
wrongfully disregarded the express provisions of Section 73 (2) of
Labour Code 1992 and thus committed gross irregularity.
The Labour Court's finding that the 2nd Respondent was
charged with contravention of a "non existent or unclear rule"
also attacked on the ground that it amounts to a misdirection in
total disregard to Applicant's Disciplinary Code and
the 1980 conditions of Employment of staff Section 10 of
the latter provides in part as follows:-
"10. Expenses whilst on Company Business.
All reasonable expenses incurred by an employee whilst
on company business are paid for on submission of a claim form to
be attached the necessary supporting documents. Employees
must pay for all expenses whilst on the trip and claim on return to
place of domicile."
I have underlined the words "reasonable expenses"
to indicate my view that an employee is not given a free hand in the
of Applicant's funds whilst on the latter's business trip. The
expenses that such an employee incurs must be reasonable and
have a bearing to the Applicant's own interests. They must
certainly not be of a luxurious nature as is the case here.
Section 3.2 of the Applicant's Disciplinary Code on the
other hand clearly shows that "unauthorised use of company
funds...." is a very serious offence punishable by
Accordingly I find that the Applicant's complaint in
this regard is well taken and that once more the Labour Court
itself and is thus guilty of a gross
The Applicant's next complaint is contained in paragraph
5(i)(1) of the founding affidavit of Roger Smith in the following
"i The Court President states that the penalty we
imposed is disproportionate to the offence. In our view it was not,
that as it may the Award itself is oblivious of the following
factors which should have been taken into account.
1. The 2nd Respondent was dismissed in March 1994. First
he refused to take an appeal which was available to him. Secondly
the Labour Court did not exist, Courts of law were there.
So the October 1994 being (sic) the date of establishment of the
Court has no bearing or relevance here, particularly as he did
not lodge his case before that Court in October or November 1994
Thirdly, 2nd Respondent only resorted to the Labour
Department nine months later in November 1994, which followed
the hearing of his appeal (see annexure E). Even then
he only lodged his case in March 1995, which was exactly a year after
and five months after the appeal. The case itself was only
heard in September, 1995. None of these delays were at the instance
the Applicant, so why should Applicant be penalised so to pay for
these. Fourthly, whatever faults that may have been there at Mr.
Streenberg's (sic) the appeal rectified them as it was presided over
by different people who cannot be said to the prosecutors and
all at once."
the 2nd Respondent has not denied these material allegations.
I accept therefore that the delay in bringing the matter
to finality was not caused by the Applicant. In my view the 2nd
must shoulder the blame for such delay. That being the
case I find that the Labour Court's award was most unfair to the
Company which was punished for the delay which was not of
its own making to the extent that it was unreasonably made to pay 2nd
monthly salary "from the 8th November 1994, which
was the day of the appeal hearing to the date of judgment" plus
"payment of six months salary as compensation."
In other words the 2nd Respondent was wrongfully allowed to benefit
his own dilatoriness in delaying to prosecute his matter to
finality. This at the expense of the Applicant and to its prejudice.
In this regard I have attached due weight to the unchallenged fact
that the 2nd Respondent "refused to take an appeal which
available to him."
In terms of Section 220.127.116.11 of the Applicant's
Disciplinary Code an employee has three (3) days within which to
notify the Applicant
Company of his intention to appeal. That Section
reads thus :-
"18.104.22.168 Should the worker be dissatisfied with the
outcome of disciplinary proceedings, he shall, within three (3) days
notify the company in writing of his intention to appeal and
the reasons thereof"
In my calculation the three (3) days within which to
note an appeal expired on 31st March 1994 yet the 2nd Respondent
simply did nothing
about it until November 1994. Surely the Applicant
was entitled to expect that the matter had been finalised and closed.
Which leads me to the aspect of condonation. Section 70
of the Labour Code Order 1992 reads as follows:-
A claim for unfair dismissal must be presented to
theLabour Court within six months of the termination of
thecontract of employment of the employee concerned.
The Labour Court may allow presentation of a
claimoutside the period prescribed in subsection (1) above
ifsatisfied that the interests of justice so demand."
The Labour Court tried to go around this section in the
following words appearing in its judgment:
"At the start of the hearing Mr. Mpopo for the
applicant applied for condonation of the applicant's late filing of
application because he had sought the intervention of the
Labour Commissioner and the case had subsequently been referred back
that the local remedies could be exhausted. It is common cause
that the respondent did not object to the application, thus leading
the court to conclude that they did not see it as unfair to them if
the condonation is granted. In any event we are satisfied that
applicant had not just sat back and not pursued the claim. He lodged
the complaint with the lawful structure for the settlement
disputes namely; the Labour Department. As a result of the appeal to
the Department of Labour,
the respondent reopened the enquiry for an appeal
hearing in terms of the respondent's own rules of procedure, as late
1994. We are of the view that ail these actions suspended
the running of the prescription period. We thus come to the
that when the case was lodged in March 1995, it had not
yet prescribed. There is therefore no need for condonation."
It is clear to me therefore that the Labour Court did
not grant condonation because it felt there was no need for
question that arises therefore is whether the Labour
Court was justified in law in adopting this approach.
Firstly there can be no doubt about the fact that 2nd
Respondent's claim for unfair dismissal expired six months after his
in terms of Section 70 of the Labour Code Order 1992. In my
calculation the date of such expiry was the 31 st September 1994.
this means therefore is that on the 31st March 1995 when the 2nd
Respondent launched his application before the Labour Court the
for unfair dismissal had long prescribed and it was thus necessary
for the Labour Court to exercise its discretion in terms
70(2) whether or not to allow presentation of the claim in the
"interests of justice."
It must be borne in mind that the discretion given to
the Labour Court in terms of Section 70(2) is not an arbitrary one.
must be exercised judicially upon a consideration of
all the relevant facts and in fairness to both sides. The Labour
be "satisfied" on the facts of a particular case
that "the interests of justice" demand condonation. This
Labour Court failed to do.
In dealing with condonation Holmes JA stated the
following remarks with
which I respectfully agree in United Plant Hire(Pty) Ltd
v Hills and Others 1976 (1) S.A. 717 AD at 720:
"It is well settled that, in considering
applications for condonation, the Court has a discretion, to be
upon a consideration of all of the facts; and
that in essence it is a question of fairness to both sides. In this
considerations may include the degree of
non-compliance with the Rules, the explanation therefore, the
prospects of success on appeal,
the importance of the case, the
respondent's interest in the finality of his judgment, the
convenience of the Court, and the avoidance
of unnecessary delay in
the administration of justice. The list is not exhaustive.
These factors are not individually decisive but are
interrelated and must be weighed one against the other; thus a slight
a good explanation may help to compensate for prospects of
success which are not strong."
As I read Section 70(2) of the Labour Code Order 1992 I
am of the firm view that the jurisdiction of the Labour Court in a
a claim for unfair dismissal has prescribed only arises
from that Court actually granting condonation if satisfied that the
of justice so demand. Conversely if no condonation is
granted then the Labour Court has no jurisdiction in the matter.
Accordingly I consider that by failing to expressly
grant condonation in the matter the Labour Court denied itself
the matter and thus committed a gross irregularity by
entertaining the matter in the absence of such jurisdiction.
Lastly Mr. Moopo has argued that there was no urgency in
the matter. I do not agree. The 2nd Respondent had obviously obtained
which he could execute at any time. I consider therefore
that the Applicant was fully justified in applying for stay of
as a matter of urgency.
In the result I am satisfied that the Applicant has made
out a case for the relief sought in the Notice of Motion.
Accordingly the Rule is confirmed and the application
granted as prayed in terms of prayer 6(a) of the Notice of Motion
against the 2nd Respondent only.
For Applicant: Mr. Makeka For 2nd Respondent:
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