Three hundred and six (306) retired employees of the Ghana Commercial Bank (GCB) have dragged the bank to court to claim retirement pensions and other benefits from the bank's special pension scheme.
In two separate writs filed at an Accra Fast Track High Court, the ex-workers, including branch managers, senior administrative assistants, senior record clerks, assistant accountants, and senior messengers among others, claimed that they had been denied their pension rights without recourse to the relevant provision of the scheme under which all of them were qualified to be paid.
In response to a letter dated November 11, 2004 by an ex-employee who applied for his end-of-service benefit, the bank issued a statement which read that the said defendant was not entitled to any pension payment since he served the bank for 9 years 4 months instead of a minimum of 15 years.
The defendants said this reply made petitioners who had worked for 15 years certain or who otherwise qualify for the deferred pension payment go to court to claim their benefits.
However, under the instruction of the court the defendants filed an amendment statement which stated that even though plaintiffs had worked with the bank for 15 years, they were not entitled to any benefit as the scheme under which they were making the claim had been abrogated.
The statement of the defence was filed on June 5 and was sent to the Plaintiffs on June 6.
In response, Counsel for the Plaintiffs filed a reply to defendant's statement but the court had to adjourn the case until June 18 so it could study the writs for the next year.
The writ of the ex-employees stated that the special pension scheme approved by the board on June 29, 1976 began on October, 1979, but was abrogated on December, 1990.
The plaintiffs asserted that the failure of the management of the bank to consult staff about the alleged arbitrary abrogation of the pension scheme by the board rendered the whole exercise null and void.
To them, pension rights duly promulgated after appropriate consultations with employees were not ex-gratia payment and could not therefore be unilaterally and arbitrarily cancelled by management without the prior consent of employees.
The staff explained that since they had acquired rights as a result of 15 years of service with the bank before the circulation of the alleged abrogation of the scheme, they automatically qualify to get their benefits.
They further asserted on equitable grounds that they were entitled to equal treatment with their former co-workers, who were currently enjoying pension by the bank and that no sound or meaningful legal arguments could be adduced to justify any discrimination against them as they were retrenched under the same conditions as their former co-workers.
The Plaintiff s maintained that since their pension rights had already been earned under the scheme, their acquired rights could never be transferred onto the SSNIT Pension scheme on the mere pretext of the alleged unilateral and arbitrary obligation of the bank's own scheme which in any case became null and void.
They indicated that Section 21 of the National Pension Scheme, PNDC L 247 1990 did not in any way abolish existing pensions, but rather permitted continual existence of such Pension Schemes in addition to the SSNIT.
According to the Plaintiffs, even at the cut-off date, their rights to pension had accrued long ago on the completion of 15 years of service.
The defendant averred that the board of directors of the bank abrogated the Scheme as at December 31 1990, whereupon all pension payments based on the Scheme were halted.
It denied that the Social Security Law, 1991, PNDC Law 247 Section 21 barred it from abrogating the scheme rather than using it as an incentive package, because the Scheme's sustainability was contingent on the availability of funds and would therefore be scraped when considered necessary to prevent the bank from collapse.
The Defendant further denied that the Plaintiffs' Pension rights had accrued under the Scheme and contended that what they had was a mere right existing among the members, which they could have taken advantage of before the scheme was abrogated.
“Thus, without any act done by an individual towards availing himself of that right, it cannot properly be deemed a right accrued within the meaning of the Scheme.”
Plaintiffs, it stated, were disentitled from pursuing any claim against the bank in view of the fact that in 1989 the plaintiffs were offered deferred pensions, having worked for 15 years.
By Mary Anane