Retrenched employees of the National Conservation Commission (NCC) will demand an additional 54 weeks’ wages as compensation from the state agency in light of the Employment Rights Tribunal’s ruling on Friday, July 15 that they were unfairly dismissed, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) announced Tuesday.
NUPW President Akanni McDowall told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the union’s legal counsel Pat Cheltenham, QC, had presented this as an option, following the Tribunal’s rejection of the workers’ demand for reinstatement and its decision to award them compensation equivalent to 52 weeks’ wages.
However, McDowall pointed out that Cheltenham had suggested that the workers should accept the initial compensation awarded by the panel while he seeks to get the additional compensation, since an appeal could take as many as three years before it is heard in the law courts.
The union’s top brass today met with approximately 50 retrenched workers at its headquarters on Dalkeith Road, St Michael to discuss the advice given by Cheltenham, who suggested that they ought to have been paid for the period from which they were sent home on April 1, 2014 to the day the panel ruled they were unfairly dismissed.
“We are going to explore this option of seeing whether or not these workers can be given the payment for the additional year-and-a-half that they were at home,” McDowall said.
Explaining that the process was still in the preliminary stages, McDowall said the union would approach the panel to find out if it would review its decision not to compensate the workers for the entire 106 weeks.
The union president said that the general consensus among the workers was that they wanted reinstatement, but pointed out that Cheltenham had indicated that it was rare for workers to be reinstated, but not impossible.
McDowall added that based on the legal advice, the workers had agreed to accept the compensation at this time, while they await the results of the union’s efforts.
He gave the workers the assurance that the NUPW would do whatever was possible to ensure they would receive the compensation due to them as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond echoed previous calls to have the payments expedited, arguing it would be a “miscarriage of justice” if the NCC were to delay the process.
“We would hope that shortly all will be done to settle the payment. Any delay will be seen as a further miscarriage of justice. We are saying that Government, through the Ministry of Finance, is obligated to have this matter settled by making the funds available to bring closure to the matter,” Walrond said.
Earlier today, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler indicated that he wanted distribution of the funds to begin as soon as possible.
Sinckler said the quicker the process began the better it was for Government, as no provision had been made for these payments in the Budget.
“My hope is that it will start as soon as possible. Of course this would be an unbudgeted expenditure so the quicker we know at the Ministry of Finance what the cost would be the better, because we would be able to factor it into our expenditure planning. So we basically await it, but we are not directly involved in the negotiations. We would be consulted of course, because at the end of the day it’s money that has to be paid from the Treasury. The quicker the better for us for sure,” he said on the sidelines of the signing of an agreement between Hyatt and developers Mark Maloney and James Edgehill for the construction of Hyatt Resort Centric here.
Sinckler told Barbados TODAY the relevant parties had not yet begun talks so he was unable to give an estimation of how much the ruling would to cost Government.
“I don’t know as yet how much it is going to cost. The parties haven’t sat down to negotiate to finalize that. We know what the Act says in terms of the maximum that it can [pay]. The parties at the instruction of the Tribunal have to sit down and go through that, which would then detail a specific amount. That has not started as yet,” he revealed, while refusing to comment on the ruling.
Last Friday, General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union Caswell Franklyn advised the dismissed workers to appeal the Tribunal ruling, arguing they ought to have been paid for the period they were out of work.