The Accra Fast Track High Court yesterday discharged the Managing Director of Barclays Bank Limited, Ms Margaret Mwanakatwe, and the Head of Human Resources Business Partner, Ms Laureen Lokko, on contempt charges.
The two were dragged to the court by eight employees, who are executives of the local Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) of the bank, following their dismissal by the bank, in spite of the fact that they had filed a motion at the court for an injunction against the bank's decision to summarily dismiss them.
The eight employees are Opare Yeboah, Samuel A. Anarwat, Angela Deku, Esther Asiedu Larbi, Gariba Adam Andan, Edward Boakye, Thomas Benjamin Quainoo and Matthew Kotoku.
Discharging the two, the court, presided over by Mr Justice Victor Ofoe, held that “from the facts of the case, the plaintiffs have failed to establish that the respondents are in contempt of court”.
“I, therefore, do not find them liable for contempt and discharge them accordingly,” Mr Justice Ofoe added. According to the court, the law imposed the duty on the employees to prove the guilt of the two beyond reasonable doubt.
It also held that the employees failed to prove that their salaries had been withheld, as well as prove that they had not received their salaries for January and February. The court did not award costs against the employees.
The bank is expected to file its response to the substantive case by Monday, April 21, 2008 in order for a date to be fixed for hearing. At the court's sitting on March 12, 2008, counsel for the employees, Mr Albert Adaare, had said Ms Mwanakatwe and Ms Lokko were in contempt of the court because they had prevented the affected workers from going to work, thereby violating provisions in their collective agreement.
He said the respondents had been aware of the contempt application and knew its purpose but went ahead to restrain the applicants from entering their offices. However, counsel for Ms Mwanakatwe and Ms Lokko, Mr Charles Hayibor, had described the application as misconceived because there was no proof that the employees were either prevented from entering their offices or had not been paid their salaries.
According to him, the employees had been paid their salaries for January and February 2008.
The disagreement between the employees and the bank stemmed from the bank's decision to dismiss the entire executive of the ICU.
An affidavit deposed by Opare Yeboah on behalf of the rest of the employees in support of the motion for contempt said on the true and proper interpretation of Articles 15 and 16 of the collective agreement between the ICU and the bank, the letters issued to them on January 11, 2008 purportedly dismissing them summarily were illegal and in contravention of the Labour Act, 2003 (ACT 651).
According to the employees, that action was unconstitutional, null and void and ought to be quashed by the court because it was victimisation of the workers who were trade union leaders within the bank.
The employees said on February 8, 2008, they filed an application for interlocutory injunction against the bank, seeking to restrain it from preventing them from entering their offices and continue to carry out their duties and responsibilities as employees of the bank.
They said the said application was served on the bank on February 22, 2008 and that the Managing Director and Human Resources Business Partner were personally aware that the application for injunction was pending.
In spite of their knowledge, the employees said, the respondents wilfully and intentionally disregarded it and treated it with disdain, which was a sacred process of the court.
They said for the month of February 2008, the bank withheld their monthly salaries and paid them pittances which, they said, the bank described as monthly salaries.
Story by Mabel Aku Baneseh