The case brought against the state-owned National Conservation Commission (NCC) by over 80 workers who were terminated in a government cost-cutting move just under two years ago, will finally be heard before the Employment Rights Tribunal next week after a delay of over a year.
Tribunal chairman, Hal Gollop QC, made the announcement today as he spoke with reporters at the offices of Minister of Labour, Senator Dr Esther Byer, in the Warrens Office Complex, Warrens, St Michael. The hearing will take place at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre from September 30-October 2.
“It is a class action suit because the workers all have very similar issues. All of the cases have been brought on identical facts so that the disposition of the cases can be done in one fell swoop,” Gollop said, explaining that the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre was “chosen specifically to accommodate as many members of the public as possible”.
“The hearings of the Employment Rights Tribunal are all public,” he said, “but where there is a single complainant, the hearings will be done in a smaller venue”.
Gollop visited the offices of the Minister of Labour to deliver a copy of the ruling handed down by the tribunal as well as a transcript of the evidence presented in the Joel Leacock vs KPMG case.
He told reporters that to date, 141 cases had been submitted to the tribunal for adjudication. Pointing out that there was a very strict procedural path through which cases must pass, the senior attorney disclosed that the tribunal was awaiting submission of documents from claimants and respondents in 97 cases.
Noting that some cases were settled through mediation after they were started before the tribunal, Gollop said: “ . . . Eight cases have been discontinued. Recently, two cases have been settled after they had commenced before the tribunal. The parties mediated and have resolved those matters without further intervention by the tribunal.”
He went on: “There are ten cases ready for hearing, but all of them have not yet been scheduled. There have been adjournments of three cases.”
Gollop told Barbadians the ruling in the case Leacock vs KPMG, an accounting firm, was handed down in a mere two weeks. He assured the public that the tribunal was working very hard on its mandate which is crucial for the development of good industrial relations in the country.
Asked if it was necessary for a claimant to retain the services of counsel at a hearing, the tribunal chairman said: “The Ministry of Labour provides that support to persons who themselves are not able to retain counsel. It is very important to note that assistance can be had.
“As a matter of interest, one of the applicants who appeared before the tribunal did not have counsel representing her. There is absolutely no mandatory requirement to have your case presented before the tribunal by counsel. That places a responsibility on the tribunal itself to see that the interest of that person that was not represented by counsel is protected,” he added.
After receiving the documents in the Leacock vs KPMG case, Dr Byer said the presentation represented a historic event marking a significant step in the country’s industrial relations. She reported that since the ruling in this case was handed down, increased interest was shown by complainants in having their cases heard before the tribunal.
She expressed concern, however, that even though employers are mandated by the Employment Rights Act and even given a six months extension to submit “statements of particulars” for employees, many employers had still failed to comply.
Contacted for a comment on the announcement that the NCC workers’ case was finally coming up for hearing, President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Akanni McDowall, welcomed the news.
“We are happy as a new executive that the case is being called only five months into our term,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“Remember one of our mandates was to ensure that the case [was] heard in a timely manner. For me personally, who sat on the executive before, I felt that those workers would have been greatly disadvantaged by the management of the NCC when they did not follow the process of last in first out.”