Member of Parliament for St James North, Edmund Hinkson, has called for Minister of the Environment, Denis Lowe, to be held accountable for this week’s multi-million dollar payout to close to 200 former workers of the National Conservation Commission (NCC) who were made redundant two years ago.
In July the Employment Rights Tribunal ruled that the workers were wrongfully dismissed when they were sent home in 2014, and ordered compensation equivalent to 52 weeks wages.
They received their payouts earlier this week.
In a statement issued today, Hinkson said it was a welcome relief to know that the workers, some of whom are his constituents, had been compensated.
According to him the payments bring partial vindication to what must represent “one of the saddest moments in employer-employee relations” since the establishment of trade unions in Barbados’ history.
He noted that the redundancies occurred after the workers were assured just over a year prior, that their public sector jobs were secure.
The opposition MP added that shortly before the dismissals, the public was told by the Minister of Labour that Cabinet had decided that the last in first out principle would apply in the selection of who would be sent home from the NCC and other government agencies and statutory corporations.
“Yet, many workers with over 10 and even 15 years’ employment at the Commission were made redundant while those with 1 or 2 years’ employment were kept on the job,” he stated.
According to him, the decision by the NCC to ignore Cabinet’s decision has perhaps cost the public millions of taxpayers’ money in employment rights and severance payments to those workers, as well as in expenses of the tribunal hearings.
The attorney at law charged that this is an error for which Lowe, whose ministry is responsible for the NCC, must take full political responsibility.
“It was revealed to the public before the final decision was taken as to who would be sent home that the Minister had the list of persons who it was proposed should lose their jobs.
“The foremost political responsibility as to those who were chosen to be fired must, in my opinion, rest with him as the Minister with ultimate accountability,” Hinkson said.
He also cited a recent ruling handed down in Belize by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which indicated that a Minister of government can, under certain circumstances, be ordered to repay the state, and ultimately the taxpayers, for its financial losses which have arisen from what he called “the Minister’s abuse of authority”.
“Surely Minister Lowe ought to be held accountable to the people of Barbados for the arbitrary decision taken by the NCC Board of Directors and management which has cost us so dearly financially!
“Surely Minister Lowe should be required by the Prime Minister and by the Cabinet of Barbados to repay the State the financial loss suffered by the Barbadian taxpayers as a result of this disastrous mistake!” he said.
Hinkson added that the issue provides “yet another reason” why the Prime Minister ought to relieve Minister Lowe of his Cabinet position.