Knives out for Labour Court boss

Knives out for Labour Court boss

MASERU – KNIVES are out for Labour Court President ‘Malebona Khabo after what appears to have been a nasty fallout with the Ministry of Labour and Employment. An investigation by thepost has revealed that although Khabo has been having battles with the Ministry of Labour since 2014 matters seem to have come to a head in September this year.

This was after the ministry asked her to “show cause” why she should not be disciplined for alleged insubordination and taking an unauthorised international trip. In a letter the ministry’s principal secretary, ‘Maseithati Mabeleng, accused Khabo of attending an African Labour Law Conference in South Africa in September without permission.

Mabeleng said Khabo was absent from the office for four days – from September 6 to 11 – despite a “serious backlog of cases and a public outcry for bad service at the Labour Court”. The principal secretary also accused Khabo of having “plainly refused” to come to her office on September 25.
Khabo responded to Mabaleng’s letter within three days of the receipt as the letter instructed.

thepost however understands that Khabo never attended the conference as alleged. Instead it appears that she sent her presentation to the organisers after informing Professor Stefan van Eck, a member of the organising team that she had not been granted permission to attend.
Her paper was presented on her behalf by one Cameron Morajane who chaired one of the sessions.
Regarding her alleged refusal to attend the September 25 meeting, Khabo was in court when the instruction came and she could not leave the proceedings for Mabeleng’s meeting.

It is reliably understood that consultations are now in full swing to find a way to bring disciplinary charges against her.
Her recent troubles are only a culmination of the frosty relationship she has had with the government for the past five years.
In those years Khabo has tussled with the first coalition government of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and former Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s coalition. Now she faces the new government which seems to want her out.

Khabo was appointed Acting President of the Labour Court in June 2012 following the death of Lebereko Lethobane.
Before then she was Deputy President of the court. Trouble started at the end of 2014 when her acting allowance was abruptly stopped. She queried the decision but the situation did not change.

In April 2015, Khabo was appointed president of the Labour Court after being interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), an independent board that hires judges, magistrates and other judicial officers. But despite the appointment Khabo continued to earn her previous salary as deputy. When the salaries and benefits were eventually reviewed Khabo found out that she was earning far less than what her predecessor earned.

The new salary was about M5 000 less than what she had been earning as deputy president. The airtime allowance had not been reviewed and the benefit of a diplomatic passport enjoyed by the predecessor had been removed. Khabo was not consulted when her contract was prepared. Sources within the ministry said a peeved Khabo wrote to the then Principal Secretary complaining about both the salary and the benefits.

In the letter in January 2016 Khabo said she was shocked that the contract had a “retrospective” effect in that it said it was with effect from April 2015.
She said because what she had been earning for more than a year was higher than what was being offered it meant that she actually owed the government.

She insisted on getting what her predecessor was earning and rejected the contract. Khabo said her treatment was not only unfair but also unfortunate because it was being done by a ministry that should champion workers’ rights.
She also told the ministry that she was working under immense pressure as the only judge in the Labour Court, a unique court that serves the whole country. The Labour Court reviews cases handled by the DDPR. It also executes its own awards and those of the DDPR.
Khabo has been the only judge in the court for the past five years.

When the new employment contract was not changed Khabo wrote another letter to the ministry, reminding the principal secretary that the issue remains unresolved and she is still getting the deputy president’s salary.
By that time she had held several meetings with Thulo Mahlakeng, the then labour minister, and the principal secretary but nothing changed. In the letter copied to the JSC, Khabo also requested the PS to intervene.

Her battle has continued even when the government has changed. This paper has been told that the ministry is unhappy that Khabo refused to withdraw her lawsuit against the government over her new employment contract. She filed the case a few months before the current government came to power.

Khabo declined to comment when contacted by thepost this week. She referred the newspaper to the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Keketso Rantšo, said as far as she is aware Khabo “is still executing her duties efficiently at the ministry”.
Rantšo said “as a minister, we are still fine. I have no issues with her and I do not know with other staff members”.
Asked about the disciplinary hearing against Khabo, the minister said she did not have any information.

Rantšo said she did not have any information that Khabo had attended any conference anywhere. She also said she is not aware that Khabo complained about her salary and benefits. On Khabo’s concerns that she is working alone the minister said she has already advertised two posts for her deputies.

The Chairperson of Workers Group at the Industrial Relations Council, Tšeliso Ramochela, said there will be a disaster at the Labour Court if Khabo is dismissed. Ramochela said Khabo’s dismissal would further delay some of the cases as some would have to be reinstituted.
That means workers will not get justice soon, Ramochela said. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Staff Reporter

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