Ouagadougou Labour Court, Zongo and others v. owner of the Bataille du Rail Mobil garage, 17 June 2003, No. 090
Constitution of Burkina Faso
Treaties or agreements which have been duly ratified or adopted shall upon their publication have a higher authority than the laws, provided that each agreement or treaty is applied by the other party.
Dismissal , Protection of wages , Minimum wages
Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law , Reference to international law to strengthen a decision based on domestic law
Unfair termination of a contract/ Failure to respect fixed minimum wages/ Reference to international law to strengthen a decision based on domestic law/ Use of international law as a guide for interpreting domestic law
All three plaintiffs were employed by the defendant as petrol pump attendants. On 30 April 2001, the defendant informed them, through individual notes, that their contract of employment was being terminated, with no explanation or prior notice. The plaintiffs, deeming their dismissal illegitimate, turned to the Labour Inspection in a bid to settle the dispute amicably. When this attempt failed, they went to the Labour Court.
After deciding that the termination of the contracts of employment was unlawful, the Court looked at the different claims by the plaintiffs, including that of the right to recover outstanding wages because of failure to respect fixed minimum wages for their job category. The Tribunal saw that the wages paid to the plaintiffs were below the minimum rates set by the decisions of the Interprofessional Joint Committee on 12 March 1997 and 24 May 1999, respectively. The Court therefore concluded that Article 20(5) of the Labour Code had been infringed. That article states: “An employer must pay the wages and allowances duly stipulated in the texts of regulations, agreements and contracts.”
In addition, to confirm its reading of Article 20(5) and acknowledge the compulsory nature of the minimum wages, the Court referred to ILO Conventions Nos. 26 and 131 on ways of setting minimum wages. Burkina Faso had ratified the two Conventions.
The Court noted that Article 3(3) of ILO Convention No. 26 obliged employers and workers to respect fixed minimum wage rates:
“Article 3(3) of ILO Convention No. 26 on minimum wage-fixing machinery (…) stipulates that the minimum rates of wages which have been fixed shall be binding on the employers and workers concerned; they are not to be lowered by them, neither by individual agreement nor, except with the authorization of the competent authority, by collective agreement.”
The Court also referred to Article 2(1) of ILO Convention No. 131, which stipulates that “minimum wages shall have the force of law and shall not be subject to abatement”.
Lastly, to enable the plaintiffs to recover the sum thereby due to them, the Court again drew on ILO Conventions Nos. 26 and 131:
“[Given] that Article 4 [of Convention No. 26] says (…) that a worker to whom the minimum rates are applicable and who has been paid wages at less than these rates shall be entitled to recover, by judicial or other legal proceedings, the amount by which he has been underpaid, subject to such limitation of time as may be determined by national laws or regulations. It should be added that Convention No. 131, concerning minimum wage fixing, with special reference to developing countries, of 1970, ratified by decree 74-42 of 4 March 1974, stipulates in Article 2(1) that failure to apply them shall make the person or persons concerned liable to appropriate penal or other sanctions.”
The Ouagadougou Labour Court thus concluded that domestic law, interpreted in conformity with treaties which Burkina Faso had ratified, did not allow contractual derogation of the minimum wages set by the Interprofessional Joint Committee. Furthermore, when those minimum rates were not respected, the victim of the infringement was right to seek to recover the sums due, and the employer had to pay the entitlements that resulted from such an infringement.