The long-awaited tribunal hearing into the retrenchment of 80 National Conservation Commission (NCC) workers got underway today with legal counsel for the displaced workers Pat Cheltenham focusing on management’s failure to adhere to sections
of the Employment Rights Act which call for consultation before workers are sent home.
Cheltenham made this submission before Chairman of the Employment Rights Tribunal Hal Gollop QC and the other two panellists, Ed Bushell and Beverley Beckles as the hearing began today at the LLoyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Two Mile Hill, St Michael, just after 1 p.m.
Speaking before a sizeable crowd and giving the background to the case, Cheltenham recalled that on April 30, 2014 acting assistant general secretary of the National Union of Public Workers Wayne Walrond received a telephone call from an employee requesting the presence of a representative of the union at a meeting where dismissal letters were being handed out to workers.
The senior counsel added that none of the dismissed employees was given advanced notice as to who would be dismissed or when they would be severed.
Cheltenham further stated that as a result of these events the NUPW wrote to Chief Labour Officer Vincent Burnett complaining of the NCC’s breach of the dismissed employees’ rights pursuant to Section 27 of the Employment Rights Act 2012-9.
According to Cheltenham, the complaint was grounded on the NCC’s failure to carry out the required consultations pursuant to Section 31 (6) of the Employment Rights Act.
Cheltenham, who is one of Barbados’ leading attorneys-at-law, told the panel that the letter also addressed the NCC’s failure to act fairly in the method of selection- last in first out- used in the termination of the affected employees.
In response to the NUPW’s complaint, the management of the NCC contended that it had carried out the prior consultation meetings pursuant to 31 (4) of the Employment Rights Act; that it was continuing consultations with the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) who was the accredited representative and board member for the categories of workers made redundant on April 30, 2014; that at the date the affected employees were made redundant it did not have knowledge or a record of the claimants as being members of the NUPW, singularly or exclusively; that short of individualized selection, the NUPW was fully apprised of the circumstances of the pending redundancies and that it had no knowledge that the NUPW would have been the proper and recognized bargaining agent as stipulated under Section 31 (4) of the Employment Rights Act.
Meanwhile, at today’s hearing former general worker at the NCC Cutie Lynch, who was acting as a representative of the over 80 displaced workers was cross examined for an hour by counsel for the NCC Mitchell Codrington.
Lynch, 35, who was employed at the NCC for ten years prior to her retrenchment on April 30, 2014, maintained during the
cross examination that she was unfairly dismissed and declined to accept the redundancy letters and green slips that were handed out by management.
She told the panel that she only accepted the letter at a later date when she learned that she would not be able to receive unemployment benefit if a specific period had expired.
The hearing continues tomorrow at 1 p.m. when former general secretary of the NUPW Dennis Clarke is expected to give evidence and will be cross examined by counsel for the NCC Mitchell Codrington.