For the second time in two weeks, the state-owned Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) has been ordered to pay out large sums of money in compensation for unfair dismissal of senior employees.
On Wednesday, the Employment Rights Tribunal (ERT) ruled that four former supervisory or management level workers were unfairly terminated from their jobs in December 2018 at the height of the restructuring of the public sector which formed part of a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme.
Chairman of the tribunal retired High Court Justice Christopher Blackman declared that ex-Non-Sugar Crops Unit Manager Edwin O’Neal; former Farm Manager Winston Bailey; former Mechanical Workshop Supervisor Coral Bramble and ex-Farm Manager Philmore Gilkes were unfairly fired and will therefore be awarded just under $124,000.
Justice Blackman said that the state agency must pay the money to the four by October 15, 2021. They were all members of the Sugar Industries Staff Association (SISA).
He directed that O’Neal be paid $21,798; Bailey, $57,212; Bramble, $18,788 and Gilkes, $26,179 totaling $123,978.
The tribunal head said the final payout of $21 798 to be paid to O’Neal, who had spent nine years with the organisation, takes into account the severance of $23,878.58 to which he would have been entitled.
Justice Blackman explained that Bailey, who had 18 years’ service under his belt, and whose salary was the same as O’Neal’s at $8,797 monthly, was to be paid $109,624.15 minus the $52,411.87 for severance.
Bramble’s payment was calculated to be $95,247.12 based on his salary of $4,717 monthly. He had been employed by the BAMC for 25 years.
A payment of $76,458.28 for severance was deducted leaving the net balance of $18,788.84.
Gilkes’ payment was determined to be $50,245 based on his gross salary of $9,677 per month and his nine years’ of service at the state agency.
“A payment of $24,066.68 for severance should be deducted, as stipulated at paragraph 5 (b) of the Fifth Schedule, leaving a net balance of $26,179. 28 due to Mr. Gilkes,” the three-member tribunal ruled.
He also ordered that all parties must bear their own costs.
However, Justice Blackman said the three-member panel also comprising Edward Bushell and Frederick Forde, declined to grant a separate award to the claimants based on allegations that they were shortlisted by the company for dismissal because they were members of SISA, a trade union.
“No evidence has been given to support the allegation that the claimants were shortlisted for dismissal as a result of their membership of SISA or that the respondent did not adhere to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 135. In the circumstances of the absence of both evidence and legal authorities on the matter, the tribunal declines to make any award under paragraph 1(c) of the Fifth Schedule,” the chair ruled.
In handing down his decision, Justice Blackman made it clear that the issue for determination was whether the company carried out consultations in accordance with section 31 (6) (a) of the Employment Rights Act or whether there were special circumstances as per section 31 (6) (c) which rendered it not reasonably practicable to comply with the requirements of section 31 (6) (a) of the Act.
“In the tribunal’s view, given the chronology detailed it was reasonably practicable for the respondent to comply with the consultation requirements of the Act, and consequently there is no basis for the special circumstances defence given the facts of the instant matter,” the retired Appeal Court Judge stated.
“On a consideration of the totality of the witness statements and the oral evidence of the claimants and Mr. Leslie Parris [retired general manager] on behalf of the respondent, and the written submissions, the tribunal has determined that the respondent failed to carry out the consultations with SISA in accordance with section 31(6) (a) and (b) of the Act.
“As a consequence of the foregoing, the tribunal finds that the dismissal of the claimants was unfair,” the ERT chair declared.
Exactly 15 days ago, the ERT awarded former agricultural manager and Head of the Agricultural Department of the agency Dr Orville Wickham more than $112,800 in compensation for unfair dismissal to be paid by September 30.
Dr Wickham was made redundant around the same time and under similar circumstances.
In October 2018, then general manager Leslie Parris wrote the president of SISA informing him that following discussions and negotiations within the Social Partnership, IMF and the other international financial institutions, the Government of Barbados, under the BERT programme, had taken the decision as part of the rationalization and restructuring of the BAMC to reduce its financial subvention/support to the company by $10 million in 2018.
Parris had informed the SISA that this decision, would impact the company’s overall operations in 2018/2019 as well as its ability to maintain current levels of staffing in both the company’s agricultural and factory operations.
“In this regard and in accordance with collective bargaining protocols, the company is notifying the union of its intention to commence the consultation process with the union as is required under the Social Partnership protocols and under the provision of the ERA at the earliest opportunity,” Justice Blackman quoted the letter as stating. ([email protected])