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WASCO CEO suspension nullified

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Labour Court has nullified the suspension of Water and Sewage Company (WASCO) chief executive officer (CEO), Futho Hoohlo, on the grounds that he was not given a hearing before being suspended.

Mr Hoohlo was suspended on 15 November 2020 on various misconduct allegations including claims that he violated WASCO policies by seconding a senior WASCO employee to the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) set up by Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro to coordinate the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

He is also accused of gross negligence which has allegedly cost WASCO unspecified amounts of revenue. He is further accused of sitting on the boards of other companies during his working hours at the water utility.

On 11 November 2020, WASCO board chairperson Chabeli Ramolise wrote to Mr Hoohlo demanding that he “show cause” why he should not be suspended and hauled before a disciplinary committee to answer misconduct charges.

Mr Hoohlo was given until 6pm that day to have responded to the “show cause” letter.

However, Mr Hoohlo fell ill the same day with an undisclosed ailment and sought medical attention. He was granted sick leave until 14 November 2020. On that day, he still did not respond to the “show cause” letter, saying he had to go for medical checkup. The board then suspended him on 15 November 2020.

Mr Hoohlo did not take the decision lying down. He filed a Labour Court application on 20 November 2020 for the nullification of his suspension on the grounds that it had been done without affording him a hearing.

He also petitioned the court to reinstate him to his post. On 23 November 2020, the court granted him an interim interdict to remain in office pending the finalisation of his application.

Reading the final judgement on Tuesday, Labour Court Deputy President, Makoanyane Keta, said the court had granted Mr Hoohlo’s application after finding that WASCO had suspended him with “such feverish haste”.

Mr Keta said WASCO should have waited for Mr Hoohlo to be fit enough to respond to its “show cause” letter.

“We see no reason why the respondent (WASCO) could not wait for the applicant to get better and then make representations,” Mr Keta said.

“….The applicant was not at work but nursing himself from home and nothing prevented the respondent (WASCO) from conducting investigations without suspending him.

“It is the court’s view that the respondent was unfair and unreasonable by effecting the suspension of the applicant with such feverish haste. On this basis, we find that the suspension of the applicant was unfair. It is the order of this court that the applicant’s suspension is declared null and void and of no force and effect.”

WASCO had argued that the doctor’s note which Mr Hoohlo had submitted to prove that he was ill was not authentic. The utility company questioned the credibility of the medical practitioner who granted it. It said that Mr Hoohlo’s sick-leave was “a mere hearsay” in that there was no affidavit attached to his application to support his doctor’s claims. However, Mr Keta ruled that WASCO should have sought a second opinion from another medical expert “rather than make assumptions”.

WASCO had also argued that the Labour Court did not have jurisdiction to deal with Mr Hoohlo’s application because section 15 of his employment contract states that disputes with his employer should be solved internally or at the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR). However, Mr Keta overruled the submission, saying that his court had jurisdiction.

“The Labour Court has jurisdiction to inquire into any matter relating to industrial relations. This court has jurisdiction to entertain the lawfulness of a suspension,” Mr Keta ruled.

 

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