The National Union of Public Workers leadership confidently states that it shouldn’t take the Employment Rights Tribunal that long to see what the union has repeatedly termed as unfair decisions by the National Conservation Commission in its retrenchment of workers.
The NUPW’s general secretary Dennis Clarke even gave a timeline for the tribunal’s ruling: Friday!
Such efficiency and completeness from our national bureaucracy –– given the gravity of urgency Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has expressed –– would be greatly welcome; but we are not holding our breath. With all the optimism turned pessimistic, clarity turned obscure, agreement turned discordant, efficacy turned to bungling in the NCC’s necessary shedding of staff, and at the annoyance of the unions and frustration of their worker members, practice would suggest no cakewalk for the unions.
And Mr Clarke may well be too anticipative of the judgement of a tribunal that must consider impartially the arguments of both sides: that the arbiters will have no alternative than to be predisposed to his union.
Even dogging the proceedings at this time is the question of “conflict of interest” as manifested itself in the revelation that the chairman of the tribunal, Ms Traecey Codrington, is the daughter of Mitch Codrington, industrial relations consultant to the NCC board, and that the said Codringtons are partners in their own law firm.
While impartiality in the matter before the tribunal may very well not be compromised, as the father and daughter team are both honourable members of the legal profession, prudence would dictate that the honourableness ought not only to be observed, but to be seen to be as well –– even when some unionists say they have no problem or quarrel with Ms Codrington.
Notwithstanding, it is sad that negotiations between the NCC and the unions should have come to this state, after the Barbados Workers’ Union had initially praised the conduct of the commission. What indeed could have gone so wrong that the efforts of the commission and the unions together, in following tried and appropriate industrial relations and bringing amicable closure to justice for the 200 severed workers, became intractable?
And dare we assume the Prime Minister’s frustration with the continuing missteps of the NCC on the retrenchment of its staff drove him to seek relief from a panel carrying no baggage and more likely removed from any sentimental and emotional attachment?
But there are still some doubts about the effectiveness of the tribunal under under the Employment Rights Act, given that specificity of regulations by the Minister of Labour as required by Section 49 of said act remains wanted, and that there is no prescribed and standardized method of filing complaints as we might be guided by.
Honour and integrity of the tribunal panel aside, there is a chance of the hodgepodge –– and legal or paralegal processes have no sterling reputation of expeditiousness in this neck of the woods.
Maybe the tribunal is in this state of floundering because we never seriously felt we would have need of it –– which may be forgiveable.
But any further delays will be a discomfort, emotional distress and pain to the retrenched workers, who are yet to get their legitimate settlements.
Should the tribunal findings not favour the NCC workers, we may well see longer walks down the corridors of the legal system, for the High Court will be the only option, seeing how all else before has failed, barring of course that the board of the NCC could become covered by Christian grace –– and so dramatically show it.
Surely, statutory boards are, to all intents and purposes, accountable to the people of Barbados, as are the ministers responsible for them –– in this case, Mr Denis Lowe, under whose portfolio the National Conservation Commission falls, and whose voice has been deafeningly silent all of a sudden.
The minister may have plausible ground to hold his peace now that the NCC matter is before the Employment Rights Tribunal; but sooner rather than later, he must answer the charge against him of constituent favouritism.
The tribunal may losen some tongues after all.