A major hurdle has been crossed in the case involving 200 retrenched National Conservation Commission (NCC) workers, currently before the Employment Rights Tribunal.
For the past two sittings, the NCC’s lawyer Mitchell ‘Mitch’ Codrington has sought to convince the Tribunal that the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) has no right to represent workers at the statutory corporation, arguing strongly that there was no recognized NUPW bargaining unit at the NCC.
In fact, Codrington contended that only the Barbados Worker’s Union (BWU) was recognized at the institution.
However, after listening to Codrington continually press the issue this afternoon, Tribunal Chairman Hal Gollop intervened to put the issue to rest.
During last week’s feisty hearing – which featured regular clashes between Gollop and the NCC’s attorney – the Chairman explained that while there may not have been any written agreement between the NCC and the NUPW, the Tribunal was willing to accept that recognition could have been achieved through “a course of dealing”.
The NCC’s General Manager Keith Neblett took the stand for the first time today, and while being examined by Codrington, Gollop intervened.
“The question I would like to ask now, so that we can truncate this line of questioning, is, during your time as general manager did the NCC ever deal with the NUPW during its bargaining sessions, with respect of wages, conditions or anything that a union would be brought into the discussion about?” he asked Neblett.
And, despite strong objection from Codrington, who argued that the question “was undermining his client’s case”, Neblett eventually answered in the affirmative.
“Yes, we have had over the years discussed matters between the NCC and the NUPW because they have workers that they represent,” he said.
Gollop then insisted that it was important for the Tribunal to know.
“The Tribunal sees it as a crucial point and a crucial issue in the settlement of this case; the issue of recognition.
“It is the view already expressed by this commission that there can be recognition through a course of dealing. If you [Codrington] are not of this view, the commission is left to be persuaded otherwise and be able to overrule its own ignorance in the matter,” Gollop added, before asking Codrington to accept the ruling of the chair.
Before an audience, which included the NUPW’s General Secretary Roslyn Smith and President Akanni McDowall, along with Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados President Cedric Murrell, Gollop and the veteran lawyer then exchanged words for a brief moment, with the latter blurting out, “my client pays me and not you!”
It led the chairman to send a stern warning to the frustrated lawyer.
“This Tribunal has power and the chairman has the status of a High Court judge, and the chairman of this Tribunal will be treated as such.”
The day’s hearing was cut short at 3:20 p.m. after counsel for the NCC, Pat Cheltenham, asked for an adjournment to deal with a personal matter.
Former NUPW General Secretary Dennis Clarke also took the stand for 20 minutes this afternoon, where he was examined by Cheltenham.
The Tribunal will resume on Monday at 1 p.m., where Neblett will continue to be examined by Codrington.