Despite compulsorily retiring ten of its employees who had reached age 60 last year as part of cost-cutting measures, the state-owned Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) is still projected to end this financial year with a $10 million loss, Chief Executive Officer Sonja Trotman told a High Court judge.
The disclosure came this afternoon during Trotman’s near 45-minute testimony in a lawsuit filed against the BIDC by seven of the ten workers.
Under re-examination by her counsel Nicole Roachford, the CEO revealed that
40 per cent of the corporation’s budget of $22 million was allocated to paying wages and salaries every month to the tune of $9 million, a state of affairs which it could not sustain.
She told presiding judge Jacqueline Cornelius that the statutory body had fallen short of its projected savings from the job cuts by more than $1 million.
She explained that despite implementing a number of measures, including a decision not to replace employees who had retired or resigned and restructuring the IT department, the state agency realized only $1 million of the projected $2.5 million a year in savings.
Trotman also testified that the decision to compulsorily retire the workers was taken in March 2014 and that their retirement would save the company $350,000 annually.
In explaining why the corporation expected to record the multi-million dollar losses this year, the BIDC boss blamed a reduction in Government subventions, less earnings from incomplete projects, outstanding payments and expenditure on the ongoing legal process.
Earlier, during cross-examination by attorney for the workers Gregory Nicholls, Trotman denied telling the staff at a Christmas party in December 2014 that no one would be laid off.
Pressed further by Nicholls, she informed the Court that while the retired employees had been paid a salary up to December 2015, they had not been paid for January and would not get any remuneration for this month either.
“[We] can’t afford to pay for February . . . and [we] are not going to pay,” Trotman said, adding that while salaries would not be paid, those who had indicated their willingness would receive their pensions and gratuities.
As Nicholls continued to question her, the BIDC head admitted signing cheques for retirees last year as part of the company’s policy to award the workers based on length of service.
It was at this point that the claimants’ lawyer asked if she had not considered the proceedings before the court and the possibility that the judge would declare the retirements unlawful, when she signed the cheques.
“Yes, I do,” Trotman replied.
Asked if the company would accept the cheques if the court made such a ruling, Trotman said she did not know.
The severed employees contend that the process which resulted in the decision to compulsorily retire them was unlawful.
They are also claiming that the statutory board exercised its discretion unreasonably in breach of the policy of an Act of Parliament, “and in a manner which has dashed the legitimate expectations of the claimants”.
“The purported retirement of the claimants from the Public Service is not a necessary requirement for the proper and efficient conduct of the business of the First Defendant (BIDC),” they claim in the lawsuit.
The case has been adjourned until Thursday, February 18 when attorneys from both sides will make their final submissions, ahead of the judge’s decision.