Eskom employee loses defamation claim

Picture: Thinkstock

Picture: Thinkstock

An Eskom employee who sued his bosses for R10.3 million in damages after he was fired for an incident in which an employee was electrocuted, but reinstated by the CCMA, has saddled himself with a huge bill for legal costs.

The High Court in Pretoria dismissed the massive defamation claim instituted by Philip Matshinhe, a principal technical officer at the Hendrina power station in Mpumalanga, with costs.

Matshinhe claimed Eskom had maliciously set the law in motion by laying false charges of misconduct against him following an incident in March 2009 when Eskom employee Piet Msibi was electrocuted while patrolling a high-voltage line.

He claimed his good name and reputation had been harmed in the process because he was falsely accused of being incompetent and irresponsible and was portrayed as a “murderer”.

Matshinhe was initially found guilty of misconduct and was summarily dismissed, but the CCMA in August 2010 ruled that his dismissal was not procedurally fair and ordered Eskom to reinstate him and pay him over R149 000 for the income he lost.

The disciplinary charges against him included that he had allowed an unauthorised person, Danny Khumalo, to perform work on the line, thereby placing Khumalo and Msibi in danger.

He was also accused of failing to notify his team leader to clear off the line while closing the breaker to energise the line, which allegedly led to Msibi’s electrocution.

Eskom’s regulations for high-voltage systems stipulates that only authorised persons with adequate knowledge may perform switching, linking, safety testing and earthing operations.

Khumalo said in a statement he had not been authorised to work on the line after his authorisation was withdrawn due to a switching error he made.

Judge Andre Louw said it was clear that Eskom’s field services centre manager at Secunda had Matshinhe’s own statement about the incident before him when a decision was made to charge him.

On the face of it, Matshinhe had breached the Eskom regulations and was prima facie guilty of misconduct. There was therefore reasonable and probable cause to charge him, the Judge said.

Judge Louw found Matshinhe had failed to prove that his prosecution was malicious or that he had been defamed.


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