Fathers, sons and fat cheques: arms firm under fire for unfair job cuts
A long-serving employee was laid off, and his court challenge revealed a latticework of half-truths and nepotism
When veteran gunsmith Mark Sampson was fired under the guise of retrenchments, he took his fight with prominent arms manufacturer Truvelo to Labour Court, unpacking a web of hollow truths and nepotism that would see the judge rule in his favour.
Sampson, employed by the company since 2007, was retrenched in 2017 after the firm announced the division he worked in was not profitable, so much so that they would need to shed jobs.
And when he went to court to challenge the fairness of his dismissal – interrogating the narrative advanced by the company – the gunsmith was right on target.
Rudiger Gebert, Truvelo’s managing director, told the court the company had been staving off a wave of retrenchments since 2015, finally succumbing two years later.
A vacant order book made desperate cost saving necessary, he said, and the salaries of his employees were the best fat to trim.
But judge Portia Nkutha-Nkontwana, in examining the company’s management accounts, established there had been growth in the division, contrary to what Gebert had held.
Sampson also testified that just months before he was retrenched, the company had secured the biggest order of the year, something Nkutha-Nkontwana found had called the reasons behind his retrenchment into question.
“It is also strange that, whilst Truvelo had been contemplating retrenchments as early as 2015, the very same year it commenced with an international recruitment drive. Gebert testified that he went on a skill hunt abroad and recruited Simon Temmel, an Austrian citizen,” she said in her April judgment.
In a letter supporting Temmel’s application for a work visa, penned by Gebert in 2015, he said the company was considering an expansion programme.
“Clearly Truvelo was not only doing well but was contemplating expansion. When Gebert was confronted about the contradictions, his response was that he always hoped that things will improve. I am not convinced,” the judge said.
“Temmel’s recruitment in 2015 increased the operational costs exponentially, as his monthly salary was almost R800,000. As such, it is highly implausible that retrenchments were ever considered in 2015,” she added.A year later, the court heard, Truvelo would hire Gebert’s son with a cool R70,000 monthly salary.“Truvelo unashamedly paid Sampson a monthly salary of R16,261.88 despite him being a qualified gunsmith with 27 years’ experience. Sampson correctly submitted that the cumulative effect of these appointments is that the respondent increased its operational cost by almost R2m per year, a figure that is very close to the overall losses Truvelo incurred since their appointments.”Moreover, Sampson testified that he had spent most of his time fixing the mistakes of Temmel and Gebert’s son, something that was never disputed.
Nkutha-Nkontwana also found the company never offered Sampson an alternative position, something they were bound to do by the Labour Relations Act.
“In all the circumstances, I am satisfied that Sampson’s retrenchment was substantively unfair. Truvelo failed to prove that the retrenchment was operationally justifiable on rational grounds, or that it fairly applied the selection criteria, or that it properly considered alternatives to retrenchments,” she ruled.
She ordered that Truvelo pay Sampson 12 months’ salary and slapped the firm with the costs of the lawsuit.