MRC slams newspaper over ‘victimisation’ damages claim before Labour Court

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A Weekend Argus report claiming that the SA Medical Research Council (MRC) was before the Labour Court, following allegations of “victimisation, intimidation and harassment, with a subsequent damages claim of just over half-a-million rand” has been slammed by the MRC.

In a statement, issued on Friday, November 1, following the Weekend Argus report of 27 October, the MRC rejected the claims  and accused the journalist, Bulewa Payi, of proceeding with a “false narrative”, regardless of “easily ascertainable facts”.

“The entire case was entirely withdrawn by the accuser on 14 October 2019, long before Payi’s story, and removed from the roll of cases due to be heard on 14 November 2019. Of necessity, the accusations against the SAMRC were withdrawn,” said Dr Alfred Thutloa, head of corporate communications at the MRC.

“Furthermore, Court papers publicly filed of record in the same file as the accuser’s papers, set out the response of the SAMRC to the accusations made against it. Payi ignored to balance the story and report on the version of the SAMRC set out in the court papers publicly available. In addition, Payi chose not to afford the SAMRC the right to reply to her story.”

The Weekend Argus report had said that in papers filed with the Labour Court, it is claimed “the employee suffered major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder following the incident. Two medical doctors at the MRC, one of whom is at senior executive level, are implicated in the incident that allegedly took place between December 2016 and January 2017. Although details were not spelled out in the papers, it is suggested it concerned a promotion denied to the employee.”

“An internal mediation process was, however, held and a settlement reached. It was recommended that a career advancement path be crafted for the employee. It was also noted that the employee intended to seek compensation. A compensation award of R519 310 has been recommended. The case is set down for 14 November.”

The MRC statement goes on:

The said employee (claimant), who has been permanently employed by the SAMRC for more than a decade, applied for a vacant post. The SAMRC shortlisted and interviewed five candidates. The said employee was ranked fourth (4th) out of the five (5) applicants interviewed and was unsuccessful. All due diligence was followed for the interview process, including a panel interview, structured job specific questions and a scoring matrix applied for the five interviews. 

The decision based on the outcome of the interview process was communicated to the said employee. After being informed that she was not successful, the said employee embarked upon the internal grievance process against the SAMRC. The internal dispute resolution process did not find that the SAMRC had erred. A settlement agreement was subsequently signed by both parties at the end of this process. This settlement agreement stipulated:

 1) The SAMRC would grant the employee access to the current and future strategy of the Business Unit, to which the said employee is employed;
2) The SAMRC would provide the employee with six (6) job descriptions to be used to model the 
     formulation of the employee’s current job description;
3) That the benchmarking of the employee’s role be halted to allow her to incorporate the strategy and information from the six (6) job descriptions;  
4) Human Resources would provide guidance on whether she would be placed as a result of a recruitment process or an automatic placement process; and 
5) This would occur within a month. 

Notwithstanding that both parties signed this agreement, the employee embarked on a process at the CCMA. This process at the CCMA resulted in a further settlement agreement, which stated that the parties agreed that all previous disputes between the parties, including the prior agreement had been resolved, and the new job description was agreed upon and signed by both parties. The SAMRC implemented the content of the CCMA settlement agreement. The employee, despite signing both agreements, opted to refer the matter to the Labour Court. The employee reneged on both the internal and CCMA agreements. 

The SAMRC has supported the employee to align herself with the requirements of the work environment, and preparing her for future career progression. The SAMRC has also supported the employee both directly and indirectly during this period, resulting in the said employee attaining a PhD while still being employed. The SAMRC rejects the article as unethical, nefarious, without fact or substance and further condemns the publishing of the article without offering the SAMRC the right of reply. 

The SAMRC has as one of the strategic goals linked to our annual measurable performance indicators, the mandate to ensure transformation in science, by ensuring race, gender, and geographic diversity. Transformation in our staff complement is key to how we can support science that has an impact on the health and lives of people in South Africa. We have various programmes to support our goals, including but not limited to: A Transformation Forum, Five (5) Year Renewable Appointments for Unit Directors, Diversity Awareness Training, Coaching, Disability Awareness Programme, Succession Strategy for Executives, and an Employee Wellness Programme.

Weekend Argus report (subscription needed)

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