The Court of Appeal on Friday set aside the High Court decision that the Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority (GPHA) should pay billions of cedis in compensation for the wrongful dismissal of 4,194 casual workers.
The court, by a 2-1 decision, however, dismissed an appeal by the GPHA in respect of one of the dismissed workers, Clement Agbesi, and held that he should be paid entitlements similar to those paid to permanent workers because his dismissal violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
While the majority, comprising Mr Justice J.B. Akamba and Mr Justice G. M: Quaye dwelt on procedural errors, Mr Justice E.A. Addo, who dissented, dwelt on the substance of the matter and stated that the award of compensation was right in law.
The High Court in Tema, on January 18, 2006, entered judgement in favour of the dismissed workers, some of who worked for periods varying from one to 10 years, and ordered the GPHA to pay billions of cedis in damages for breach of the CBA, compensation, severance awards and costs.
The court had ordered that ¢5 million should be paid to each of the ex-workers as damages for breach of the CBA, ¢10 million to each of them for each year of service after the expiration of 154 days of continuous work with the authority as compensation for illegal conduct in keeping them as casual workers; violation of their economic rights and discrimination against them, contrary to the 1992 Constitution.
It further ordered that severance awards - comprising three months salary for each year of service, ¢3 million in lieu of rent, ¢2 million for medicals, two bags of rice, two gallons of oil, year 2001 bonus for those who qualified and ¢1.5 million as conveyance fees should be given to the ex-workers.
The rest were five months salary as handshake, long service awards, interest on all sums due each of the ex-workers at current commercial bank rate from October 1, 2002 to the date of judgement and ¢1O million as costs.
The suit was filed by Clement Agbesi and four others on behalf of the dismissed workers.
But the authority appealed against the decision, describing the awards as meaningless, perverse and baseless in law and prayed that they should be set aside.
According to the ex-workers, they were employed by the authority as casual or non-permanent employees until September 2002 when a re-organisation led to their being laid off, without receiving any payment in lieu of notice, apart from some meagre amounts described by the authority as golden handshake.
However, they said, detailed severance packages were paid to each of the authority's permanent employees.
They stated that by the provisions of the various CBAs, negotiated on their behalf at various times during their employment with the authority, they ought to have been made permanent employees after working continuously for 154 days in a calendar year.
In its statement of appeal, the authority stated that the trial judge erred in giving judgement for all the ex-workers as if they were parties in the action, although the record of proceedings and the relevant rules of the court clearly indicated that they were not.
According to the authority, it was during the trial that the ex-workers filed a document entitled "List of Plaintiffs" to which was annexed the list of 3,839 others and a subsequent motion to add 356 more people as plaintiffs.
It said the judge's finding that the authority acted illegally and unlawfully in treating the ex-workers as non permanent employees for all the period of their employment with the defendant was erroneous because there was no evidence on record of the period of employment of each of the ex-workers.
Mr Justice Akamba, who read the majority decision, said the action brought by the ex-workers did not qualify as a class action, since it lacked consistency in the list of the plaintiffs/respondents.
He said the five ex-workers who sued did so on their own behalf and capacity and that the rest of the plaintiffs were only joined after the statement of claim had been filed.
In the case of the four others whose names were listed, the court held that they did not provide their staff numbers as to when they worked and how much was due them.
He said information concerning the list of full plaintiffs did not bear any circumstantial evidence for consideration by the court and that it was only the first plaintiff who was entitled to be paid salary, allowance and benefits.
The rest of the plaintiffs, he noted, failed to discharge their evidential burden that the GPHA breached the CBA and found no justification in entering judgement in their favour.
Mr Justice Addo upheld the trial court's judgement in the plaintiffs' favour and said after the expiration of 154 days of continuous work, the plaintiffs became permanent staff and ought to be treated as such.
Culled from Daily Graphic