Next week Judge Owen Rogers will rule on whether a case between Oak Valley and its workers will be heard in the Labour or Equality Court. It may seem a mere technicality, but a lot is at stake.For the third time on Thursday Rogers, in the Cape High Court sitting as the Equality Court, heard argument on which is the right court to hear the case. If heard in the Equality Court, the relevant legislation will be the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act. If it is heard in the Labour Court, the relevant legislation will be the Employment Equity Act.About 45 men from the Eastern Cape — the applicants in the case — live in a single-sex hostel on Oak Valley, a fruit, wine and flower farm in Grabouw. They claim they are discriminated against because local, mostly coloured, workers are allowed to stay with their families in hostels on the farm.
The applicants want the court to declare that not providing family accommodation to them is unlawful. They want the court to order that the situation must be fixed.If the case is heard in the Labour Court, which is what Oak Valley’s management wants, the hearing will be confined to much narrower issues of labour law. If it’s heard in the Equality Court, which is what the applicants want, the hearing will be broader and, in the words of counsel for the workers Henk Smith deal with “trans-generational systemic action rooted in apartheid practises in the mining and agricultural sectors”.Smith told the court that the the land owners have run a migrant labour system including single sex hostels for three generations of African families.
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