Government could be facing a more than $15 million class action lawsuit from drivers and conductors fined within the last five years for not wearing uniforms.
This is according to a source in the industry, who revealed that the matter was the focus of a discussion during a meeting of the Association of Public Transport Operators (APTO) over the weekend.
The source told Barbados TODAY that following Magistrate Graveney Bannister’s recent determination that the law pertaining to attire was absent of specific descriptions, operators are now on a mission to recoup fines as well as seek compensation for the resulting prison sentences.
“Over the weekend the PSV operators discussed filing a claim to recover the money that was taken from them wrongfully, which a brief calculation shows was in excess of $15 million. This [tabulation] is based on about five to six years because some of the operators have paid $500 to $1000 in fines. Some of them were imprisoned because they could not come up with the money. Therefore, a lot of them were imprisoned wrongfully and to my understanding, compensation for erroneous imprisonment equates to about $1500 per day,” the source explained.
Barbados TODAY understands that so far, several hundred operators and conductors have signalled their intention to be part of the legal action but it is expected that more persons will join, thereby raising the stakes. It was also revealed that while a legal opinion was sought, industry players are keen on retaining the services of former transport minister Michael Lashley QC, whose arguments last Friday highlighted the loophole which was reported in another section of the media.
“Right now a large number of the guys have been pushing to get Lashley to take the case because this is something we have been fighting for years and he was the first to get some success with it,” he said.
The former Democratic Labour Party (DLP) minister was successful in getting charges dismissed against PSV worker Andre Marlon Scott, who pleaded guilty to a charge relating to not being appropriately dressed and another of not wearing the required PSV badge. It was noted that Government’s printing machine was not working at the time and he therefore could not have been provided with an updated badge.
Lashley told the court that at the time PSV operators were permitted to wear grey polo shirts and that Scott was wearing one when he was reported last year. The lawyer had also argued that the regulations spoke to attire “approved Barbados Licensing Authority” and not by the Transport Authority and therefore the officer who reported the operator erred when he cited him for not wearing a Transport Authority-approved uniform.
When contacted APTO president Morris Lee confirmed meeting with operators and conductors on the matter. “A precedent has been set for inappropriate dress. So the repercussion of this is that PSV workers will certainly feel aggrieved,” said Lee, who noted that discussions were still at a very sensitive stage.
However he told Barbados TODAY that in addition to the possible legal action, operators have been presented with a golden opportunity to demonstrate to the public that they can operate without a legal big stick hanging over their heads.
“I want to inform all PSV workers to continue to dress in the appropriate uniform such as a cotton shirt, a long pants and enclosed shoes. I want the operators to demonstrate to the Government, the police and the public that they do not have to have legislation hanging over their head in order to dress properly. I also want to encourage them to make sure that they move all unsavoury music from those vehicles. This is a chance to show the public that you [PSVs] can provide a service while properly attired without the law hanging over your head,” he stressed.