The Respondent’s cause of action is one for contractual damages that she contends were suffered in consequence of what is alleged to be a premature termination of a fixed-term contract.
The relevant portion of the Respondent’s statement of claim read as follows:
“The Respondent was appointed in an executive position commencing 15 August 2017, a position she would serve in for a period of five years. She would earn a salary of R3 030 337.60 per annum. On 29 August 2017, the Excipient repudiated the contract by purporting to terminate it with effect from 20 August 2017 on the grounds that the Respondent’s position had become redundant. As a result of the breach, the Respondent suffered damages that equal to the salary she would have earned for the remainder of the contract.”The Excipient gave notice (in terms of Rule 23(1) of the Uniform Rules of Court) of its intention to except to the Respondent’s statement of case on the basis that it was vague and embarrassing, alternatively, that it lacked the averments necessary to sustain the Respondent’s claim.
Whether the Uniform Rules of Court are applicable in Labour Court proceedings.
As a starting point, Van Niekerk J stated that the Uniform Rules of Court are not applicable to proceedings in the Labour Court (“LC”). Rule 11 of the Rules of the LC provide that if a situation arises for which the LC Rules do not provide, the court may adopt any procedure it deems appropriate in the circumstances. However, Van Niekerk emphasised that Rule 11 is not a form of default procedure in the LC nor is it open to litigants to selectively rely on.
As the court held, Rule 11 is the appropriate procedure in which to file an exception and that Uniform Rule 23 is an appropriate guide as to when and how an exception should be filed.
Whether or not the Respondent’s statement of claim is excipiable is to be determined by reference to Rule 6 of the LC Rules and not in terms of any other rule in the Uniform Rules of Court.
Rule 6 requires no more than a party, referring a statement of claim, to record in a concise manner the relevant facts on which that party relies and also the legal issues that arise. For the Excipient to succeed, it is necessary to persuade the court that on every interpretation, the pleading in question can reasonably bear no cause of action.
Van Niekerk J held that it was clear from the pleading that the Respondent relied on repudiation of the contract in order to claim damages. All that was required in this instance, was the assertion that there was a repudiation of the fundamental term of the contract (i.e. conduct which exhibits an objectively deliberate and unequivocal intention not to be bound any longer by the contract).
The Court held that the Respondent’s statement of claim complied with Rule 6 of the LC Rules. The exception was dismissed with costs.
One of the primary purposes of the Labour Relations Act is to establish a system of dispute resolution that is less formal, efficient and inexpensive. The LC Rules are an integral element in achieving this purpose. Thus, an over-technical approach to litigation is not welcome in the LC, particularly in litigation between dismissed employees and their employers, where the promotion of access to justice may be frustrated by the cost of litigation.
Written by Jordan Dias and supervised by Pierre van der Merwe, 18 May 2018