By Alusine Sesay
About 180 former employees of the Sierra National Airline (SNA) have filed a law suit in the ECOWAS Community Court against the Government of Sierra Leone and the defunct national airliner in respect of non-payment of their end-of-term benefits.
The former employees contend that the actions of the defendants – Government of Sierra Leone and SNA – constitute a deprivation of property rights in violation of Article 14 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
“The right to receive end of term benefits is a contractual and statutory right emanating from their employment with the 2nd defendant. The 2nd defendant is in turn a wholly owned subsidiary of the 1st defendant thereby attracting vicarious liability upon the 1st defendant for the benefits owed,” a letter from Garber & Co, legal representative of the former SNA employees, reads.
The letter added: “The plaintiffs property rights are vested property rights and the 1st defendant by failing to pay up its shares in the 2nd defendant at the times of incorporation or subsequently, is now obligated by statute to pay in full the called-up shares demanded by the liquidators of the 2nd defendant given that the 2nd defendant is now in liquidation.
“It is the basic and fundamental principle in company law that a creditor is entitled and only entitled to paid-up capital of the company for the satisfaction of liabilities. If the company is in liquidation, capital that is unpaid must be paid up in full,” the solicitors argued.
They further argued that the conduct of the 1st defendant assumed liability for the payment of back salaries and end of term benefits given the payments made in August, 2010, to the plaintiffs after liquidation proceedings had commenced.
“The 1st defendant having paid part of the back salaries owed to the plaintiffs is stopped and cannot now deprive them of their end of term benefits or deny its responsibility to pay the end of term benefits to the plaintiffs,” they submitted.
The Sierra Leone law firm, which together with Nigerian law firm – Akinlawon & Ajomo – is jointly representing the 180 former SNA workers, again noted that the dilatory conduct of the defendants and the delay in paying the terminal benefits to the plaintiffs for such a prolonged period of time, resulting indirectly in the deaths of so many plaintiffs, is in violation of Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
“The efficacy of judgement or other remedy procured before the local courts is undermined by liability to enforce the said judgement against the 1st defendant, which is a violation of Article 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights,” they further averred.
The law suit concluded that the conduct of the defendants also violates Article 15 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights with regards the right to work under equitable and satisfactory condition and also constitutes an infringement of Article 23(3) of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and is in conflict with Sections 20, 21, and 23 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone.
Meanwhile, the Registrar of the ECOWAS Community Court was reported to have served the Attorney-General with the full application, with government given thirty (30) days to respond to the pleas and relief sought by the plaintiffs.