Twenty Years of the Remedy of Reinstatement in the Law of Unfair Dismissal in South Africa: Some Preliminary, Jurisprudential and Sundry Issues
Keywords:employee, employer, prescription, re-employment, reinstatement, automatic reinstatement, instatement, unfair dismissal
Reinstatement as a remedy for unfair dismissal was known to and applied by the Industrial Court of the bygone labour relations regime of 1956. It was, however, the Labour Relations Act 66 of 1995 (LRA) that entrenched this remedy in the modern South African labour relations system designed essentially to do justice between the employer and the employee and, fundamentally, to achieve industrial justice. After two decades of the operation of the adjudicative institutions established by the 1995 Act, it is time to evaluate the ways in which the labour arbitrators, the Labour Courts and the Labour Appeal Court, have interpreted and applied the provisions of the LRA relating to reinstatement. This evaluation exercise also extends to the immense contributions of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court to the jurisprudence surrounding reinstatement as an unfair dismissal remedy in contemporary South African labour law. This article starts by defining reinstatement, distinguishing the remedy of re-employment and, further, the Constitutional Court’s judicial activist innovation to the labour relations lexicon—‘instatement’. Then it settles down to tackle issues that are preliminary and jurisprudential in nature—issues that were probably not contemplated by the enabling legislation, but which have arisen in adjudication. These include resignation and its effect on reinstatement, automatic reinstatement in the form of a declaration, and whether a court is able to order either ‘interim reinstatement’ or ‘semi-urgent interim relief’. The latter part of this article examines those non-statutory obstacles to accessing the remedy of reinstatement. These include the employer’s non-compliance with the order of reinstatement, as was the issue in the protracted litigation concerning Myers v National Commissioner of the SAPS ((2013) 34 ILJ 1729 (SCA); Myers v National Commissioner of the SAPS  5 BLLR 461 (LC); Myers v National Commissioner of the SAPS  ZALCCT 68); whether the Prescription Act applies to claims for reinstatement; and such sundry issues as whether arrear wages could be recovered as a judgment debt. Finally, we consider whether an employee nearing the retirement age who is unfairly dismissed is entitled to reinstatement.
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