The National Conservation Commission has been put on notice by the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) that the fight for over 90 severed workers is far from over.
Both unions today promised they would not relax and would ensure the retrenched workers are paid their due as quickly as possible.
The Employment Rights Tribunal ruled this afternoon that the former workers were unfairly dismissed, and ordered the NCC to pay them compensation equivalent to 52 weeks’ wages.
The two unions were not entirely happy with the compensation – the maximum allowed – but saw the ruling as vindication of their struggle for the former employees’ rights, particularly as the state agency had contended that it had acted appropriately when it terminated the workers as part of Government’s retrenchment programme.
Handing down the highly anticipated ruling during an almost three-hour session at the Warrens Office Complex, Tribunal Chairman Hal Gollop, QC, said the decision by the NCC not to consult with the workers or the NUPW, along with its failure to recognize the union as the workers’ bargaining agent was a breach of their constitutional rights. He also said the last-in-first-out principle was “arbitrarily applied”.
“Having reviewed the evidence taken in this matter, and analyzing the submission of counsel, the Tribunal finds that there was in fact circumstances within the NCC that forced it to adopt the institution of redundancy measures at the corporation. The NCC, however, while executing the said measures, failed to give effect to the statutory requirement of consultation and was unable to demonstrate that during the process of carrying out the redundancy of the complainants it applied the last-in-first-out principle objectively and fairly. This being the case, the Tribunal finds that the complainants were unfairly dismissed,” said Gollop to applause.
“The Tribunal, in accordance with its statutory duty, makes an award of 52 weeks as adequate compensation in the circumstances,” he added.
Gollop left the arrangements for payment to the NCC and the unions, stressing that the panel must be advised of the outcome.
Following the announcement, NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith and NUPW President Akanni McDowall described the ruling as bittersweet.
Smith said she would seek to meet with the NCC by the end of this month, and warned she was not prepared to wait an inordinately long time for payment for the workers, who were dismissed in April 2014.
“We would have to now look at the quantum and find out how soon these monies will be paid over because if you are looking at the economic situation to say in terms of not reinstating, then you should try to make sure that you have the funds given the long suffering [of] these workers,” Smith said as she made it clear that if the state agency was tardy in meeting its obligations, “they will see another side of the NUPW”.
“These workers have gone through a situation as though they have been in prison from the economic situation here in Barbados. They have been deprived for over two years
. . . . They have not been given anything for those two years, so going forward, given the situation, we cannot relax,” the union leader warned.
Meanwhile, McDowall said although he was happy with the favourable ruling, he would have preferred if the workers were reinstated.
“We are excited about that victory. It shows that what was done to those workers back in 2014 was wrong . . . at the same time this situation is bittersweet for me,” McDowall said.
“The union’s position was that we wanted reinstatement or re-engagement. We did not get that, so that is the bitter part for me. Nevertheless I think the compensation would be a comfortable way of trying to settle this matter at this time,” he added.
BWU General Secretary Toni Moore added that the decision was “fraught with some measure of bittersweet feelings and outlooks”.
“The decision today only serves justice to the extent that the union’s claim and the public is being made aware that the union’s claim for injustice and unfairness is justified.
“Where the bitter feeling comes is where within the context of the Employment Rights Act . . . there is a clear limitation as it relates to the award that can be granted. The award maxes out at 52 weeks,” Moore observed.
“If we are understanding that workers have been unemployed for the last 106 weeks plus, then that award of 52 weeks plus severance obviously still have some gaps where workers remain in unemployment,” she added.
The top trade unionist said she wanted the negotiation for the terms of payment to begin urgently in order to put the matter to rest.
“From our view we would like [the meeting] tomorrow morning. But of course that is pending agreement by the NCC when we could meet, but we will not be subscribing to any protracted periods of time before which those discussions can commence. We need to bring closure to this matter as soon as possible.”
Moore said she was disappointed that matters relating to pension were not mentioned, since some of the former workers would have qualified, or close to qualifying, for pension. This, she said, was something she would raise at the upcoming talks.