Sat | Apr 21, 2018

IDT awards $17m to former AIJCFA employees

Published:Sunday | February 18, 2018 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson
Allan Rickards, chairman of the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association.

The Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) has awarded a total of $17 million to be shared by two former employees, who it ruled were both unjustifiably dismissed by the All-Island Jamaica Cane Farmers Association (AIJCFA) about 18 months ago.

The three-member tribunal, chaired by trade unionist Dwight Nelson, said the procedure adopted by the association in terminating the services of its chief accountant, Samuel Harper, and manager/company secretary George Bent breached the rules of natural justice and ran counter to the Labour Relations Code.

AIJCFA Chairman Allan Rickards says the association's lawyers are reviewing the decision when asked whether they would be appealing the IDT ruling.

The case was referred to the IDT by the Ministry of Labour in December 2016.

According to the written ruling, the AIJCFA's case revolved around its financial position. The association said its finances had become untenable in the mid-1990s, with income from cess derived from canes delivered by its members to various factories being reduced to a level that fell seriously short of its administrative costs.

The AIJCFA decided to engage the Ministry of Agriculture in an exercise designed to restructure the association and clear its accumulated debt. An agreement to that effect was enshrined in a memorandum of understanding in May 2011, and at the end of the prescribed period, the association was restructured and became debt free.

In the years following, the management team, including Bent and Harper, expressed concerns about the gap between income and expenditure.

Harper pointed out that salaries were the largest expenses of the association, and the management was reminded of the urgent need to drastically reduce expenses. As a consequence, management asked all staff to accept a salary at a rate lower than that approved by the Ministry of Agriculture as an alternative to cutting staff.

 

BEGAN ADVOCATING

 

However, Bent and Harper, the highest-paid employees, refused the request and began advocating for further increase in emoluments, according to the tribunal documents.

In March 2016, Bent and Harper advised of a deterioration in the AIJCFA's finances, where statutory deductions had not been paid for two months because of the shortfall between income and expenditure.

Staff reduction was considered as a remedy. On June 7, 2016, a committee of management decided that major savings in expenses could be achieved if the positions of the chief accountant and the secretary/manager were downsized and salaries reduced, and so the employment of Bent and Harper, who were engaged on three-year contracts, was terminated.

Harper and Bent, who were represented by attorneys Patrick Foster, QC, and Ayana Thomas, contended, among other things, that their termination was unjustifiable or unfair because they were not charged with an offence or breach of the human resource manual.

They told the tribunal that they have been without employment since their termination but had no desire to be reinstated.

They also asked the IDT to take into account the hardship caused to them as a result of their dismissal and asked that they be compensated in that regard.

The IDT rejected the argument that the men's dismissal was a redundancy, saying their letters of termination did not proffer that as a reason, nor included calculations for redundancy payments.

The tribunal said the fact that their contracts stated they could be terminated with one month's notice in writing or by paying a month's salary in lieu of notice did not mean their jobs should be treated as an article of trade.

The tribunal said Harper and Bent were not treated with dignity and ruled that they had been both unjustifiably dismissed. Accordingly, the IDT awarded compensation of $7.5 million to Harper and $9.5 million to Bent.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com