In legalbrief this morning, my eye was drawn to the story of ‘Kylie’. She is a prostitute, working in a massage parlour in town, who is attempting to challenge her dismissal. The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) rejected her challenge on the grounds that her work is illegal – the case was then heard by three judges in the Labour Appeal Court and judgement has been reserved. Perhaps, a caveat before I venture any further, I am no authority on issues of labour law and I do not intend for this piece– by any stretch of the imagination – to be an authoritative statement on the law on this issue, it is more an (educated) opinion-soliciting article.
Kylie’s legal representative, Advocate Trengrove, has said that the Constitution and the Labour Relations Act (hereafter LRA) say that every employee is entitled to protection under the law and that moral judgement should not be a factor considered by the court. Advocate Trengrove then uses an example that is aimed precisely at getting you to make a moral judgement – a hawker’s assistant selling fruit in contravention of a city bylaw can ‘get through the door’ at the CCMA. Both the hawker’s assistant and the prostitutes actions are illegal, however, I would venture a guess that most people would think that somehow the prostitute is less deserving of protection – this would stem from a moral judgement of their profession and is probably not based on any cogent legal reasoning.
I agree with Advocate Trengrove, that ones moral sensibilities should not play a role in deciding the legal issue of whether Kylie is to be afforded the protection that other employees enjoy under South African law. A principled and consistent position must be taken in respect of the laws application to both the illegal hawker’s assistant and the prostitute, but as to what that position is I am undecided (and perhaps am hesitant to express an opinion on without an adequate knowledge of labour law).
I do, however, think that there is a certain legal conundrum involved where a particular activity is criminalised and at the same time those who choose to engage in it are granted the protection of labour law? The consequences of an approach of this kind, if taken to the extreme, are several – take for example the junior drug mule challenging his dismissal by the ringleader – and surely ‘contracts’ of this kind are completely contrary to public policy?
As I said, I am undecided on the issue and this is really just a vehicle for gauging opinion, so please do comment.
What do you think? Will ‘Kylie’ get her happy ending...?