Sumary of ANALYSIS | Can you be fired if you can’t speak a language? This SA case sheds light:
- One such case is that of “De Bruyn v Metorex”, where an employee was dismissed allegedly for not being a Chinese national or Chinese-speaking person.
- The Employment Equity Act imposes a general prohibition on unfair discrimination on the same grounds mentioned in the Labour Relations Act, but states that “(i)t is not unfair discrimination to distinguish, exclude or prefer any person on the basis of an inherent requirement of the job”.
- ‘Jinchuan model’De Bruyn was the chief operating officer (COO) of Metorex (Pty) Ltd, a company situated in South Africa with mining interests in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia with the responsibility of managing the day-to-day operations of some of the mines.
- When the company started experiencing financial difficulties, the owners took a decision to replace the general managers at its mines with Chinese-speaking nationals.
- The reason given for the change was to ensure efficient communication between the general managers, the Chinese chief executive officer (CEO), and the Chinese banks and other shareholders in Hong Kong, given the serious adverse financial situation Metorex found itself in.
- Eventually, it became clear that his role as COO at Metorex’s head office had become redundant and he was retrenched.
- Metorex conceded that De Bruyn would not have been retrenched if he was Chinese speaking.
- The court accepted the legitimacy of the business rationale for appointing Chinese-speaking mine managers and a Chinese-speaking CEO.