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Companies pay $11m to workers

The trinidad Guardian / The Industrial Court has ordered several employers to pay their workers almost $11 million in compensation. Most of the cases were for wrongful dismissal.

The payout from 11 companies was for the period January and February of this year, and 26 employees benefited.

This is according to records for the Industrial Court’s registry. Of the 13 judgements, 11 were in favour of the employees and their requisite trade unions, while two were dismissed.

The single largest judgement was in a case of Ready Mix Limited and the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) in which the company was ordered to pay a total of $6,303755.97 to 16 workers.

However, the largest individual judgement was against natural gas company—BG Trinidad and Tobago Ltd in which the employee was awarded $3 million. BG has now been bought by Royal Dutch Shell and its holdings upstream in natural gas production and in Atlantic LNG are now part of Shell’s operations.

In the case of the $3 million award to the BG employee, the court found that the company was seeking to constructively dismiss him by indicating that his job was no longer available. He was instead offered a lower paying position and then, later, a consultancy position. The fact that the individual was in a supervisory position and the company paid generous salaries to BG employees were taken into consideration by the court in determining the size of the award. In another matter, a worker was dismissed for allegedly stealing money.

Among some of the employers were HADCO, Sunny Group of Companies, Safe Sales Ltd, and International Interior Ltd.

The business community has in the past complained that it was being made to pay a heavy price at the Industrial Court and that it felt the industrial relations super structure, including the judgements of the Industrial Court, did not allow them to operate on a level playing field.

However, the court has countered saying that its judgements were fair and that its records showed an almost equal number of judgements that favoured both employers and employees.

The system is anti-employer—Driver

Energy Chamber CEO Dr Thackwray Driver told the Sunday Guardian that over the past two years major business organisations have clearly articulated their continued concerns about the country’s industrial relations system and the impact that it was having on productivity and the ability to compete internationally.

In an email response Driver said, “The available data from the Industrial Court show that the vast majority of cases that are decided by the court are decided in favour of trade unions. Our member companies have repeatedly expressed their concerns that the court’s interpretations and rational for decision-making are unclear and inconsistent. The statistics from the past few months support our perception that the current system is generally pro-trade union and anti-employer.”

Driver added that the lack of clarity and the inconsistencies in interpretation and decision-making in the current system made it very difficult for employers to manage their companies to ensure productivity and good working relationships. He said the business community wants to see clear and transparent rules that are consistently applied.

“The Energy Chamber, Trinidad and Tobago Chamber, AmCham, TTMA and TTCSI have jointly proposed a very comprehensive and employee rights-based reform agenda to the Government. Our reform proposals are consistent with ILO principles and supported by detailed case law and precedents from other Commonwealth countries.”

Meanwhile, CEO of the American Chamber of Commerce Nirad Tewarie also expressed concerns about the numbers saying, “This confirms what business people have been saying that it appears that there is a disparity in the judgements coming out of the Industrial Court. What is clear is that employers of all sizes from all industries are uncomfortable with the IR climate and institutions and do not feel as though they can have serious discussions around productivity and engage with their employees because there is a general perception that the employers are castrated.”

It is usual that a percentage of the rulings also go in the coffers of the representing trade union, in addition to which both parties tend to bear their own cost.

Labour minister mum

When contacted, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus told the Sunday Guardian that it would be irresponsible of her to comment on matters involving the Industrial Court and, therefore, had nothing to say on the proportion of judgements found in favour of labour when compared to the employers. Ozzy Warwick, secretary of the Joint Trade Union Movement, could not be reached for comment.

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