Fire Service ordered to pay GH¢100,000 to two sacked pregnant women

BY: Emmanuel Ebo Hawkson

The Human Rights Division of the Accra High Court has ordered the Ghana National Fire Service (GNFS) to pay GH¢50,000 each as compensation to two Fire Service women who were dismissed for getting pregnant within the first three years of their employment.

 In a landmark judgement, the court declared as unlawful Regulation 33 (6) of the Conditions of Service of the GNFS that debars service women from getting pregnant within the first three years of their employment.

“Regulation 33 (6) of the Conditions of Service of the GNFS is discriminatory in effect, unjustifiable, illegitimate and illegal,’’ the court, presided over by Mr Justice Anthony Yeboah, a justice of the Court of Appeal sitting as a High Court judge, held.

Apart from the compensation, the court also ordered the GNFS to reinstate Ms Grace Fosu and Ms Thelma Hammond, the two women, and also pay them all their salaries and benefits that had accrued during the period of their dismissal.

It further awarded costs of GH¢10,000 against the GNFS.


Petition to CHRAJ

Regulation 33 (6) of the Conditions of Service of the GNFS states: “A female employee shall not be dismissed on the ground that she is pregnant, provided she has served the first three years.’’

Ms Fosu and Ms Hammond, however, became pregnant within the first three years of their employment and were, accordingly, dismissed by the GNFS in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

Aggrieved by their dismissal, they petitioned the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), which in turn sued the GNFS and the Attorney-General (A-G) at the Human Rights Court.

The applicants (CHRAJ, Ms Fosu and Ms Hammond) argued that the dismissal and Regulation 33 (6) were against the fundamental human rights of the two women, as stipulated in Article 17 of the 1992 Constitution.

Article 17 (2) states: “A person shall not be discriminated against on grounds of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.’’

GNFS’s defence

In its defence, the GNFS argued that Regulation 33 (6) was necessary due to the vigorous physical training that new employees went through to adequately equip them for their tasks.

“That vigorous physical training that the employees go through may adversely affect the foetus and the would-be mothers if these employees end up pregnant. A measure such as dismissal is made part of the conditions of service to prevent this danger,’’ it stated.

Court’s decision

In its judgement, the court held that Regulation 33 (6) was discriminatory to women on the basis of gender, which is frowned upon by Article 17 (2) of the 1992 Constitution.

“The second and third applicants (Grace and Thelma) are women who are protected under Article 17 of the 1992 Constitution. The right to family includes their right to be pregnant and they are entitled to the right to choose when to become pregnant,’’ Mr Justice Yeboah said.

The court was also of the view that unlike their male colleagues, Regulation 33 (6) negatively affected the “marriage and sex life” of the women during their first three years of employment.

“The women employees are, therefore, subjected to adverse treatment. The GNFS discriminated against the second and third applicants (Grace and Thelma) on the ground of gender,’’ it added.

More discrimination

Per the documents presented to the court, on June 12, 2014, the GNFS recalled all Fire Service women who were sacked under Regulation 33 (6) except Grace and Thelma and allowed them to wear maternity dress and also gave them maternity leave.

 In its judgement, the court further held that it was discriminatory for the GNFS to recall other  pregnant women, with the exception of Grace and Thelma.

“The exclusion itself amounts to another act of unjustifiable discrimination. The second and third applicants (Grace and Thelma) are entitled to compensation for the unwarranted institutional onslaught on their fundamental human rights — the right to work and freedom from discrimination.

“It is hereby ordered that the GNFS pays each of the second and third applicants (Grace and Thelma) compensation in the sum of GH¢50,000 for the trauma and inevitable inconvenience of the wrongful dismissal,’’ Mr Justice Yeboah ordered.