The role played by Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe in the dismissal of close to 200 workers from the National Conservation Commission (NCC) about two years ago came into sharp focus today before the Hal Gollop-led Employment Rights Tribunal.
However, General Manager of the state-run NCC Keith Neblett was not about to throw his boss under the proverbial bus.
He proved to be a very hostile witness during his near three-hour testimony in the matter brought by the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) on behalf of 186 retrenched workers.
As the matter came up for hearing again today at the Warrens Office Complex, BWU attorney Edmund King sought answers to claims made yesterday by retired General Secretary Sir Roy Trotman that the workers who were allowed to stay on, were from a particular constituency.
“The 186 [workers retrenched] didn’t come from any one constituency,” Neblett replied.
It was then that Gollop intervened, advising the witness that that he was being asked to give account of the workers who were retained, and not those who were sent home.
“What Sir Roy said was totally inaccurate,” Neblett responded before the gathering that also included BWU General Secretary Toni Moore and several of the affected workers.
As his intense cross examination continued, King also suggested to Neblett that the Minister did not have the right to micro manage the statutory entity.
“No he doesn’t,” admitted Neblett.
Earlier, the NCC General Manager had told the tribunal he could not act outside of the framework of the Ministry of the Civil Service, which dictates that retrenchments should be based on first-in-last out policy; temporary workers; those with less than five years or those with health problems.
Yesterday, Sir Roy testified that in the initial stages of the retrenchment exercise, Neblett and the union had appeared to be on the same page in terms of looking at ways of cushioning the impact of lay offs.
However, Sir Roy said after Minister Lowe got involved, Neblett suddenly lost control of the process.
Questioned on the matter today, Neblett denied Sir Roy’s claim that he had tried to supply the union leader with the retrenchment list “through the back door”.
However, King was insistent that if the General Manager has supplied the full list of all 947 NCC staffers as had been requested by Sir Roy, “we may not even have been here today”.
The attorney said all Sir Roy wanted to ensure was compliance with Protocol 6 of the Social Partnership, the Employment Rights Act, the collective agreement with the union and conventional industrial relations practice.
Originally, 300 workers were to be sent home at the statutory corporation.
Neblett revealed that figure was later reduced to 250, then 200 and finally 186.
He also said the NCC ended up spending more than $400,000 because it went beyond the March 31 deadline set by the Ministry of the Civil Service for sending home the employees, in addition to having suffered a budget cut of $6 million for fiscal year 2014-2015.
However, when Sir Roy took to the witness stand again today for about 45 minutes, he said the entire board of directors of the NCC should be made to pay back
that money out of their own pockets
because management had refused to meet with the union for seven weeks, during which time it did nothing to reach a resolution.
“The problem came with Neblett is the way he dealt with the people who were going home,” said Sir Roy.
He told the tribunal that the union was deliberately left out of the process of determining the list of workers to be retrenched.
Closing submissions will be made on Thursday at 2 p.m. when the tribunal resumes.