Amid the early shouts of “victory” by both the National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Workers Union, there can be no running away from the obvious disappointment felt by former workers of the National Conservation Commission over Friday’s ruling by the Hal Gollop-led Employment Rights Tribunal (ERT).
In fact, following delivery of the much-anticipated judgment, we are left, like former NCC worker Norma Phillips, to ask, will this former group of Government workers ever really find settlement?
Yes, there is talk of 52 weeks pay, but when exactly will this be paid and after that, then what? In the absence of a job to go to and with several mouths to feed, to whom will they be able to turn?
Clearly not the NCC! So though grateful that a judgment has actually been delivered by our system, which often makes very complex the most straight forward of matters, there will be no celebration on our part, at least not until each and every one of those displaced workers, who along with their families have simply had to do without over the past two years, is finally paid.
For us, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating even amid shouts of “vindication” by their trade unions over the announcement of nothing more than a pay promise, which reflects the maximum compensation provided for under the Employment Rights Act.
We have also taken note of the glee on the part of the Tribunal members themselves in returning a ‘favourable’ judgment, if only because it has served to restore some level of faith in an otherwise jaded process, which hitherto had been fraught with skepticism and rejection by many who deemed it not only useless but a complete waste of taxpayer’s money.
Lest we forget, eight of the nine members of the initial ERT had resigned en masse back in 2014 pointing the finger at Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, who they said had issued “a direct and specific instruction” to them, contrary to the provisions of the Employment Rights Act (ERA), and even though “neither the Minister of Labour nor any other person has any such power to direct the tribunal.
“Any attempt to accommodate the said directive would have put the integrity of the ERT under a severe cloud as well as the personal and professional integrity of our representatives,” the Barbados Employers’ Confederation had said at the time.
“It was considered that their resignations were the only option available for exercise,” the statement added.
All of this unfolded after our Prime Minister had appeared to kick the proverbial can down the road again by going the legal route of the Tribunal, instead of actually holding his Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe to account for what was seen to be a botched set of political firings.
In handing down the highly anticipated ruling during an almost three-hour session at the Warrens Office Complex, the Tribunal Chairman said as much when he ruled that the last-in-first-out principle, which has been the recognized benchmark for public sector dismissals, 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,” added Gollop to loud applause.
However, we proffer that even the goodly attorney will be glad to see the back of the NCC matter, given the rather arduous and uphill task he himself faced in seeking to stamp his authority on the process.
In fact, who could forget the needless rancour and riotous display between him and the insolent NCC legal counsel Mitch Codrington at the height of the Tribunal process last year that at times took the hearings into the gutter and gave the appearance of a process that was nothing more than a kangaroo court?
We can only hope that better will be done by all concerned in the future.