In a diverse country with 11 official languages, situations where people misunderstand each other because of language barriers can exist without a doubt. In terms of Schedule 8: item 4 of the Labour Relations Act (No. 66 of 1995) an employee should be offered a fair chance to make their case during disciplinary procedures. Therefore, employees have the option to ask for an interpreter so that they can better defend their case in a language they are comfortable with.
In the recent matter of Mmola v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and others  8 BLLR 822 (LC) the employer asked for an interpreter that is proficient in Sepedi, but he was provided with an interpreter that was only proficient in interpreting from English to Sesotho and Tswana. The employee was dismissed, and referred the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) for unfair dismissal. The matter progressed to the Labour Court. The court ruled that it was procedurally unfair towards the employee to provide him with an inept interpreter. The employee was awarded seven (7) months’ compensation because the dismissal was also substantively unfair.
Employees have the right to not be unfairly dismissed in terms of section 185 of the Labour Relations Act (No. 66 of 1995). For a dismissal to be fair, is should be substantive (with good reason) and procedurally (the right procedure was followed) fair. If an employee is refused an interpreter, or as in abovementioned matter provided with an interpreter that is incompetent, the procedure would be unfair towards the employee because he or she haven’t been granted the fair chance to defend their case in a language that they are comfortable with. Therefore, it is of paramount importance to consider the dignity of all parties in the workplace, at all times.
It is important to make sure of the rights you have during disciplinary procedures. To get the necessary advice and knowledge regarding these rights, you can phone Solidarity’s Call Centre on 0861 25 24 23 to gain labour related advice.
Author: Dana Grové