MASERU – Attempts by over 150 Home Affairs ex-employees to be rehired by the ministry hit a brick wall on Friday last week after the Court of Appeal dismissed their bid to overturn government’s decision not to rehire them. The court refused to order that they be rehired after their contracts ended. They were replaced as government hired new staff to substitute them.
The aggrieved former employees collectively approached the High Court (sitting as the Constitutional Court) on December 1, 2020, to compel the government to renew their contracts. They argued the government’s failure to extend their contracts amounts to unfair dismissal, more so when they were not given a hearing before termination.
They also argued that when government declined to renew their contracts, it violated their fundamental rights to: continued employment and incidental income, freedom from discriminatory employment practices, as well as the right to equal protection and benefit.
They were engaged during the tenure of former Prime Minister Motsoahae Thabane under the National Identity and Civil Registry and Livestock Registration Marking and Information Systems (LRMIS) but were relieved of their duties when the contracts expired.
They contended that since they were employed in terms of the Public Service Regulations, and therefore, like the rest of other public servants, they were expecting all laws applicable to public servants to be applied in their case. In their court papers, they also accused government of corruption and nepotism in its employment of the civil registrars.
The ministry’s Principal Secretary (PS), Teboho Raboletsi, along with unnamed high-ranking officials within the ministry, was particularly blamed for allegedly facilitation a scheme of making dubious appointments. The aggrieved former workers alleged Raboletsi and company were hunting for candidates through phone calls asking candidates about their Members of Parliament (MPs) and Constituency as a perquisite for employment.
“It is an open secret that the ongoing employment procedure is that a candidate would be called by a home affairs high ranking officer or the Home Affairs PS. Mr. Tumelo Raboletse whereat a person phoned would be asked his or her constituency and Member of Parliament. If he/she accords with the constituency and MP targeted by the Ministry of Home Affairs officials, then he will be employed.”
Raboletsi dismissed the allegations in an interview with Public Eye last year saying the posts were advertised and qualified people were employed. The Constitutional Court did not get to validate the allegations as it declined jurisdiction on February 11. The court ruled that the Labour Court was best placed to deal with issues the complainants raised. In its judgment, the court said, “this application ought not to have been brought before this court, let alone on an urgent basis. It is without merit and falls to be dismissed as we hereby do”.
Dissatisfied with the outcome, the ex-employees petitioned the Appeal Court to overturn the decision. They argued that the Constitutional Court erred in declining jurisdiction on their case and maintained that their complaints were constitutional. Aware that their previous positions were already occupied, they asked the court to order their reinstatement to any other positions within the ministry.
The Appeal Court refused to grant the order and instead upheld the High Court order. The judges said the lower court was correct in declining jurisdiction as it did. “…When the matter came before the High Court, it declined to assume jurisdiction. It did so principally on the basis that this is a labour matter and it fell to be determined by the Labour Court. The High Court having held that the matter was wrongly enrolled in the High Court, it was not proper to proceed to determine the merits. The application fell to be dismissed on account of jurisdiction,” read the judgment in part.
The judgment further states that “properly characterized, this was a labour matter concerned with the renewal or non-renewal of the contracts of employment of the appellants. The proper forum for their case was the Labour Court.”