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Summary Dismissal: Catholic Relief Services Pays Judgement Debt to Former Staff Over Unlawful Dismissal

Catholic based Non-Governmental Organization, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has revealed it has paid a judgement debt owed its former employee Mumin Mutaru, after a Tamale High Court issued an Order of Garnishee Nissi to attach the bank account of the CRS in Ghana held at the Osu branch of the Standard Chartered Bank Ltd. in Accra.

In an interview with ZAMI Reports, Head of Operations at the Tamale Office, Michael Gyimah intimated the organization has met its requirement though he did not disclose the amount involved.

“CRS has paid the amount involved as determined by the court to the plaintiff “.

The High Court in Tamale in the Northern  region on August 25 2020, issued an Order of Garnishee Nissi to attach the bank account of the Catholic Relief Services in Ghana for their failure or delay in paying a judgment debt.

Intercepted documents available to ZAMI Reports reveal the order was in response to an ex-parte application filed by the plaintiff and judgment creditor, Mumin Mutaru, who won a case of unlawful dismissal brought against the organization at the High Court in Tamale.

Until his dismissal, the plaintiff was the Project Manager for Migration and Youth Development at CRS in Ghana.

The Order of Garnishee Nissi followed an earlier judgment at the Commercial Division of the High Court on July 30 2020, by His Lordship, Justice Daniel K. Obeng, who ruled that the decision of the defendant to summarily dismiss the plaintiff from employment was “wrong, unlawful, and contrary to the defendant’s own internal policies and procedures”.

According to the judge, the plaintiff proved his case beyond reasonable doubt on the balance of probabilities, hence his judgment in favour of the plaintiff.

The relief organization’s own internal policy states that “no termination for cause should be made without proper investigation and collection of clear and documented evidence signed by the concerned employee.”

However, the plaintiff argued that no such investigation was conducted; and that no formal charge was leveled against him and an opportunity given for him to defend himself before his dismissal. It was against this background that in July 2019, the plaintiff sued the defendant at the High Court in Tamale for unlawful dismissal.

After a full trial, judgment was on July 30 2020, entered in favour of the plaintiff, and the defendant was ordered by the court to pay to the plaintiff all his salaries and benefits from the date of dismissal in February 2019, until the date of judgment, i.e. July 30 2020. CRS was also ordered to pay damages and cost.

The defendant however failed to comply with the court order, after an Entry of Judgment was filed and served on them. The plaintiff then filed an application seeking to initiate garnishment proceedings against the defendant, and which was granted by Justice Osei K. Gyamfi, Justice of the High Court.

By a service of the Order of Garnishee Nissi on the Garnishee, the Standard Chartered Bank, the defendant’s bank account with the Garnishee is automatically restricted and same cannot be used for any transaction until the garnishee proceedings are over.

The Garnishee was ordered to appear in court on September 7, 2020 to show cause as to why the account of the defendant and judgment debtor should not be attached.

But the defendant on September 1 told ZAMI Reports, it had fulfilled its part of the court order. Mr. Michael Gyimah however declined further comments.

Council for the plaintiff, Lawyer Sylvester Isang, of the Gbewa Chambers termed the judgement “victory for justice” adding the judgment would set a precedent for the future.

“Institutions will now want to reform and will be guided by the judgement particularly dealing with summary dismissal of their staff. It will also be a guide for employees who feel they have unlawfully been dismissed”.

Background.

The facts of the matter as contained in the writ of summons are that on Saturday, February 9 2019, the plaintiff advertised a job on Facebook seeking to employ a young girl between the ages of twelve and sixteen as a house help, and for a period of six months to be running errands for his wife who was recovering from a Cesarean-Section after delivery.

The plaintiff said he wanted someone who was idling and who wanted to earn some income for herself. The plaintiff added that he would provide free feeding, accommodation and free health insurance cover, with a monthly allowance of ghc200.00. Also, the plaintiff said he needed parental consent.

Following the Facebook post, the plaintiff said he was invited to a meeting with management of the Catholic Relief Services on February 11 2019, to explain the circumstances surrounding the Facebook post.

The plaintiff said he was subsequently asked to go and put his explanation into writing and send same to management members present at the meeting via email, which he did.

The plaintiff was invited into another meeting on February 20 2020, at which the Country Representative, Kris Ozar, informed him that the organization had decided to terminate his appointment with immediate effect, and handed over his dismissal letter to him! His dismissal letter stated in part that his Facebook post “indicated an intent to employ an underage” person.

The plaintiff proceeded to court following his unsuccessful attempts to have his dismissal reversed and secured judgment in his favour.

Section 90(1) of the Children Act of Ghana, 1998, ACT 560 puts the minimum age for employing young persons for “Light Work” at 13 years. Section 90(2) of the ACT defines light work as “work which is not likely to be harmful to the health or development of the child and does not affect the child’s attendance at school or the capacity of the child to benefit from school work.”

The plaintiff therefore argued in court that his intention to employ a young person did not violate any laws of Ghana and or CRS policy, as there was no policy at the time of his post that made “intention to employ a young person” an offense.

The records of court proceedings reveal that the defendant admitted that it had no evidence that the plaintiff employed any minor, and that the plaintiff had been in good standing and had never been queried for any personal or professional misconduct.

According to the plaintiff, he did not commit any offense that warranted his dismissal per CRS policy, and that even if he committed an offense, the defendant did not follow its internal policies and guidelines in terminating his appointment.

Summary Dismissal.

A summary dismissal is a dismissal based on the capacity or the conduct of the employee. When an employee is dismissed ‘summarily’, he is dismissed without notice. The dismissal takes place immediately following a disciplinary enquiry. In addition, the employee is not entitled to payment in lieu of notice.

Information available to ZAMI Reports indicate that, 2019 was a “difficult year” for the CRS in Ghana as it allegedly witnessed one of the highest staff turnovers in decades. It is still not clear what led to the mass resignations.

Some staff  ZAMI Reports spoke to believe that the dismissal of the former Project Manager is linked to his role in kicking against the unilateral decision to vary the terms of employment of Ghana staff by removing some of the benefits staff used to enjoy such as child education support, funeral grants and interesting-free loans for accommodation.

The Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is an international nongovernmental organization operating in over 110 countries around the world providing humanitarian services to vulnerable people and those in need. Its operations in Ghana have been largely limited to the three regions of the north.

Poverty Index.

The Ghana Statistical Service in its 2018 Ghana Living Standards Survey reports Ghana’s highest poverty headcount in 2016/17 was found in the rural savannah zone at 67.7 percent.

In 2016/17, rural savannah contributed half (50
percent) to the poverty incidence in Ghana. Rural savannah has always contributed the most to total poverty: 47 percent in 2005/06 and 40.8 percent in 2012/13.

“The worsening of poverty in the rural savannah is worrying and it will be important to further analyze the data to identify the determinants and to inform future
policies and programs”, the report said.

The Tamale Metropolis records many young girls working as head porters, with girls as young as ten and eleven years old sleeping on the streets.

A recent initiative by the Tamale Metropolitan Assembly to rid the streets of children saw the arrests of minors as young as nine years old at night, with some engaged in prostitution.

Zubaida Afua Mabuno Ismail|www.zamireports.com|Tamale.

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