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Should either an employer or an employee rely on contractual rights and obligations as the basis for their respective labour litigation, it is of vital importance that the respective parties fully understand how such contractual rights and obligations are to be interpreted.

In essence, the above entails the correct approach to the application of the golden rule of interpretation as well as the correct approach to a contextual analysis of the relevant statutory provisions.

The article consists of the relevant extract contained Coopers & Lybrand and Others v Bryant.[1]

The approach to be adopted when interpreting the language in a document

In Coopers & Lybrand and Others v Bryant,[2] the following approach was formulated:

‘According to the “golden rule” of interpretation the language in the document is to be given its grammatical and ordinary meaning, unless this would result in some absurdity or some repugnancy or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument ... The mode of construction should never be to interpret the particular word or phrase in isolation (in vacuo) by itself ... The correct approach to the application of the golden rule of interpretation after having ascertained the literal meaning of the word or phrase in question is, broadly speaking, to have regard:

(1)      to the context in which the word or phrase is used with its interrelation to the context as a whole, including the nature and purpose of the contract;

(2)      to the background circumstances which explained the genesis and purpose of the contract, i.e. to matters probably present to the minds of the parties when they contracted...’ 

The aforesaid approach was followed, with approval, by the labour appeal court in Moshoeshoe v Neotel (Pty) Ltd.[3]

[1]          1995 (3) SA 761 (A) at 767E

[2]          Supra

[3]          (2017) 38 ILJ 252 (CCMA)

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