Greater Tzaneen Municipality v Le Grange (685/2013) [2015] ZASCA 17 (18 March 2015) per Dambuza AJA [Brand, Leach, Willis and Zondi JJA concurring]

After working for the same employer for many years an employee accepted fixed-term employment on condition he would be employed indefinitely on its expiry.  The contract had to be rectified to give effect to that undertaking.  The employer disputed the jurisdiction of the civil courts but the SCA rejected this argument finding that the claim was based on a common law contractual breach.  The argument that the employee’s claim should have been based on unfairness in term of the Labour Relations Act, was firmly rejected.

This is an important judgment because it again shows that many aspects of the common law have not been replaced by statutory rights created by parliament.  In other words claims based on fairness must be processed in terms of the provisions of the statute.  Ironically the Basic Conditions of Employment Act allows the Labour Court to deal not only with claims arising from the labour statutes but also ‘any matter concerning a contract of employment, irrespective of whether any basic condition of employment constitutes a term of that contract’.

In this particular matter the employee had a choice of claims but opted for breach of contract and not an alleged unfair dismissal.

Dambuza AJA (Brand, Leach, Willis and Zondi JJA concurring):

[1]        This appeal is with the leave of this court, against the judgment of the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria (Hiemstra AJ), dismissing an application by the appellant (municipality) to have the respondent (Mr Le Grange) interdicted from accessing the municipal premises as an employee of the municipality.  The court a quo also rectified an agreement concluded between the municipality and Mr Le Grange.  Before us counsel for the municipality informed us that the interdict originally sought by the municipality had become academic and that the municipality was abandoning its appeal and tendering costs in so far as it related to that issue.  What remained for determination was the appeal against rectification of the agreement.

[2]        The agreement at the centre of the dispute between the parties, was concluded on 9 April 2010.  Prior to the conclusion of the agreement Mr Le Grange had been employed by the municipality as the ‘Head: Section Finance Expenditure’.  He had been employed by the municipality for the 17 years preceding the conclusion of the agreement.  In terms of the agreement Mr Le Grange took up employment with the municipality as the chief financial officer (CFO) for a period of three years, starting from 1 December 2009 until 30 June 2012.  Upon the expiry of the three year period, Mr Le Grange continued to present himself at the premises of the municipality, insisting that the municipality had an obligation to keep him in his employ.