2015-07-17

LETTER: Courts must protect consumers

YOUR editorial, "Abusive creditors must be reined in" (July 15), refers.
In the case of the University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic versus the minister of justice, the court decided that emolument attachment orders were unlawful. The court went so far as to say there must be judicial oversight before any such order can be granted and that a magistrate must bear in mind that the underlying rationale is the protection of the consumer.
This case becomes all the more important as it deals with execution orders that are made against the salaries or wages of individuals in order to satisfy judgment debts. The consequences of the emolument attachment orders are enormous and they certainly do infringe on the right of debtors and their families, as well as their rights to access healthcare, food, education and housing. The risk seen was that the attachment orders are open to abuse by unscrupulous creditors.
It is vital that our courts fully understand that they do need to protect consumers and they must bear in mind individual circumstances before an attachment order is granted. Although the judgment given by Judge Siraj Desai might go on appeal, we are indebted to the court for bringing this issue to the fore. It is clear many companies are now starting to investigate the indebtedness of their employees. Already, Anglo American is investigating every claim made against employees’ earnings and it was shown that about 26% of the platinum workforce was heavily indebted.
I would go so far as to say that much of the trouble we saw at Marikana was due to emolument attachment orders. Many, if not the majority, of the employees on the platinum belt see a large percentage of their salaries deducted before they receive anything.
I think this judgment will be a game-changer for industrial relations and for the way human resource departments view employees and the need for basic necessities. It must be said that without the drive and assistance of businesswoman Wendy Appelbaum this matter would not have been brought to the courts so effectively. We need to applaud this effort.
Michael BagraimCape Town
http://www.bdlive.co.za/opinion/letters/2015/07/17/letter-courts-must-protect-consumers