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Reinstatement of sacked employees and the issue of seniority

June 24, 2012

The Sacked Employees (reinstatement) Act 2010 (SEA) aimed to provide relief to over 9,000 government employees in 25 federal ministries and allied departments, who were inducted during the previous regime of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and then terminated in the following government of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).

For some time, its implementation got caught in litigation as conflicts arose, but now that decisions have been taken on some cases in favour of the re-instated employees, visible unrest can be noticed among thousands of other government servants who are already working in government jobs.

The issue started in 1997 when the PML-N government terminated all government appointments made by PPP in 1995 and 1996, calling them ‘political’ ones. These employees approached the court for their reinstatement and took their case to the Supreme Court level, but failed to convince the judges of their case.

The situation stayed this way until a decade later when in 2010 the ruling PPP government introduced the SEA and managed to get it passed from both the National Assembly and Senate by the end of 2010.

In post-devolution scenario, the government faced some difficulty in adjusting the sacked employees as many ministries were shifted to the provinces, but they were ultimately accommodated in new ministries.

And this has been a hefty undertaking. According to statistics presented before the National Assembly last year, the reinstatement of the sacked employees cost Rs2.4 billion to the public exchequer.

Conflict arose when some of the reinstated employees, after their joining, claimed seniority and sought to be accordingly given promotions, filing petitions in the Islamabad High Court (IHC) in this regard.

The regular employees, perturbed with the situation and seeing their own chances of promotion being put in jeopardy, resisted the seniority claim of reinstated employees and also took their case to the courts.

As a result, the court had several cases to decide in relation to SEA. In one of the cases, decided on June 19, 2012, the regular working employees of Sui Northern Gas Pipelines Limited (SNGPL) told IHC Justice Mohammad Anwar Khan Kasi who was hearing the case, that reinstatement of 226 employees in their organisation has blocked their promotions and the very enforcement of the SEA is ultra vires (beyond the power of) the constitution and the reinstatement is against the promotion policy of SNGPL.

Secretary establishment, however, responding to the petition informed the court that reinstated employees were appointed as management trainees and are covered under section 4 (d) of the SEA and, therefore, the reinstatement was legal.

Section 4 (d) of the act states: “A sacked employee appointed as any type of trainee in service of employer shall be reinstated and regularised on the post, he would have occupied after completion of his term or period as trainee, in regular service of the employer...”

The federal government holds the view that it has fulfilled its responsibilities by implementing the ordinance since the reinstated employees were qualified for the posts, the matter was approved by the SNGPL board of directors, and the act was itself approved by the parliament and the president of Pakistan.

In line with this argument, Justice Kasi observed that the SNGPL board of directors was an independent controlling body of the company and took the decision for the reinstatement after due deliberations. He noted that the reinstated employees are working in the organisation since October 2011 and their ouster at this juncture would not be justified.

The court also observed that the petitioners did not press the court against the vires of the SEA and the act could not be ignored when the parliament had passed and promulgated it with the approval of the head of the state.

Likewise, IHC Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi on March 30, 2012 also decided an identical matter of the reinstated inspectors of Intelligence Bureau in their favour and directed the federal government to maintain their seniority and promotion.

According to these reinstated employees and petitioners, they joined the IB during the years from 1975 to 1986 on clerical posts and in 1996, during the period of Pakistan People’s Party; they were re-designated as inspectors after fulfilling the requirements. But in 1997, the PML-N government terminated their services According to their legal counsel, Mahmood Khan Sadozai, these employees were entitled to be reinstated at a position one step hire under the said act.

On the other hand, other IB officials who had continued working during the period since 1997, told Dawn that the reinstated employees had sat in their homes while they had worked in difficult circumstances. But after the act, more than 500 terminated officials of different ranks rejoined the bureau and claimed seniority.

The regular employees argued that if these re-instated employees are promoted to the available positions, then thousands of other employees who have been desperately waiting for their promotions for quite a long period will be very discouraged.

Advocate Abdul Rahim Bhatti, an expert on service related matters, opined that the parliament passed the act without taking into consideration the interest of thousands of already serving employees.

According to him, the one step promotion for reinstated employees is against the interest of regularly working public servants, however, petitions of the regularly working employees against the reinstatements are getting dismissed because the court decides the matter in accordance with the law.

And since the law, in the form of the SEA is designed to protect the reinstated employees, they are constitutionally protected and their reinstatement cannot be challenged.

The matter, he added in conclusion, will stay this way in the favour of reinstated employees since cases already decided at the high court level can only be taken up at the appellate forum of the Supreme Court - and the regular employees will keep feeling that they have been wronged.