MASERU — The Court of Appeal has ruled that civil servants have no legitimate expectation to have their salary increased after improving their academic qualifications.
Justice Craig Howie, sitting with President Michael Ramodibedi and Justice Wilfred Thring, allowed with costs an application in which the Ministry of Tourism said its employees’ salaries should not be increased simply because they had attained degrees.
The three employees, Selloane Makha, Palesa Kotelo and Ntaote Ntaote had won the case in the High Court where Justice Tšeliso Monaphathi concluded that their expectations to have their salaries increase after they got degrees were legitimate.
When the trio joined the civil service none of them held university degrees but in 2010 a Bachelor’s degree was conferred on each of them by the National University of Lesotho.
On the strength of their newly acquired educational qualifications they asked the ministry to push up their grades from D, B and F but their request was rejected.
They were relying on a Public Service circular of 2000 which said with effect from April 1, 2000 jobs at Grade E and below would be merged and re-degraded accordingly.
“Non-degree holders who are at Grade E will retain the current grade and designations until ministries have reviewed their structures,” reads the circular.
It goes on to say new entrants in the civil service with university degrees would be put into grade F even if they are engaged at Grade E.
“Serving degree graduate officers who are at Grade E or below, will be re-graded F, while other officers who are already at F will retain their respective notches in Grade F,” reads the circular.
Justice Howie however ruled that the circular “is about the re-grading of posts, not about increasing remuneration irrespective of one’s post.”
“Second, the main focus is on raising the grade at which new officers who have degrees enter the service. Obviously they will only be able to enter if grade F posts are available and they are appointed to them,” Justice Howie said.
“The only future officers who are referred to are officers with degrees who join the service on or after 1st April 2000.”
He said non-degree holders who later acquire degrees are not “entitled either to a re-graded Grade F or to increased remuneration on the Grade F level.”
“(The circular) does not govern the situation of officers who were non-degree holders on 31st March 2000 and who subsequently acquired degrees,” he said.
“There is nothing in the language of the circular or in its purpose to justify a decision favourable to the respondents.”
The judge referred to a case in which several police officers who acquired university qualifications wanted the Commissioner of Police to promote them and pay them accordingly or just increase their salaries even if they are not promoted.
The police officers’ reasons also sprang from the same circular.
The police officers won the case but Justice Howie says the High Court “made no findings as to the meaning of paragraph 3(e) (of the circular).”
“It is not quite clear what the order in that case meant,” the judge said.
“The Commissioner was not ordered to regrade the applicants and the order made no reference to Grade F,” he said.
The judge in the police’s case had relied on a judgment in a case in which Letlaka Banyane, a prison warder had sued his boss for cutting his salary when he demoted him.
Banyane won the case because the court found that “no statutory or regulatory provision applied which empowered or required a reduction and that reduction was thus unlawful”.
“It was in that context that the court said that the circular embodied a rule of practice that carried with it a legitimate expectation,” he said.
“But that is of no assistance to the respondents,” the three employees in the present case.
“Accordingly the circular cannot give rise to the legitimate expectation contended for,” he said.