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ECOWAS Court Dismisses Case Brought by Staff of Community alleging Unfair Dismissal

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The ECOWAS Court of Justice on Tuesday, 7th July 2021 dismissed a case brought by Abel Fanon, a former cleaner with the West African Power Pool (WAPP), a specialised agency of ECOWAS, alleging unfair dismissal from the employment of the Cotonou based agency.

Although the Court held it has jurisdiction over the case as a Community staff and therefore declared the case admissible as there was evidence that he sought redress before the management of the agency before approaching the Court. However, it dismissed the suit for his failure to prove his case.

In the initiating application ECW/CCJ/APP/29/19 filed on June 24, 2019 by his lawyers, Dr Raymond Dossa and Mr Djidjoue Gboyou, he alleged the unlawful termination of a fixed-term contract of employment which was renewed severally in the past until his unfair dismissal following an accusation of theft against him which was dismissed by a national Court, the Cotonou Court of First Instance.

He further alleged he was paid below the minimum wage for the support staff category as specified in the WAPP Staff Regulations and the new salary scale contained in Resolution No. 165/REC.06/11/14 on application of adjustments approved by the ECOWAS Commission.

Mr Faton claimed he was recruited as a support staff of WAPP on June 3, 2013 and his work contract was renewed six times before his unfair dismissal and that WAPP refused to acknowledge the automatic conversion of his fixed-term contract after four renewals.

He further claimed he was indicted in an alleged theft case, arrested and detained for seven days during which he was tortured but later acquitted by a court of competent jurisdiction on 5 February 2016.

He submitted that he sought redress from the management of WAPP to no avail and described his dismissal without assigned reasons (and notice of termination) as unfair and wrongful.

He also claimed he received a call mid-February from WAPP’s accountant to receive a separation allowance to cover his health treatment bills for torture.

Relying on Article 15 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, Articles of the WAPP Staff Regulations and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, he urged the Court to among others, order that Mr Faton be reimbursed his pension and social security contributions based on the salary scale in force while in the employment of the agency.

The Applicant also urged the Court to order the payment by WAPP of the sum of eight hundred and sixty thousand (860,000) CFA as arrears of underpaid salary and another 10 million CFA as compensation for unfair dismissal.

But the lawyer to WAPP which is responsible for electricity trading in the region, Mr Raoul Placide Houngbedji, submitted that Mr Fanon’s terms of employment including salary and staff category were clearly stated in the employment contract.

He added that he was indicted in a theft case that occurred in its corporate office that led to his arrest and detention. And that he was subsequently arraigned before a Court of competent jurisdiction which discharged him for lack of sufficient evidence which the Respondent argued was different from acquittal.

Thereafter, Mr Fanon was paid his separation allowance in accordance with his letter of contract of employment and that it gave reasons in its correspondence for the non-payment of additional monies as requested by the lawyers to Mr Fanon, absolving itself of any liability outside those in his letter of contract of employment.

The Respondent also submitted that the Applicant was employed on a fixed-term contract in the category of non-permanent staff which differs from the category of auxiliary or support staff which did not entitle him to additional compensation, allowances and benefits enjoyed only by permanent staff.

After analysing the submissions of both parties, the Court dismissed Mr Faton’s allegations of discriminatory treatment, the violation of staff regulations and contractual obligations by the Respondent as well as the multiple renewal of temporary contract resulting in open-ended contract, and wrongful dismissal from employment.

The Court ordered both parties to bear their costs.

On the panel were Justices Edward Amoako Asante, Gberi-Be Ouattara, and Januaria Costa.

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