JPS wins legal battle against unions
The Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS) has won a legal battle against some of its workers, averting a possible multibillion-dollar payout that the company said could have forced it to close down.
In a judgment handed down on Friday, the Court of Appeal threw out a Supreme Court ruling, sending the dispute involving three unions to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) for a determination of the amount that the JPS is to pay out in additional overtime and redundancy payments.
The unions were expecting a payout of $4.1 billion dollars, but the JPS said it could not afford more than $2.3 billion.
Patrick Foster, QC, and attorney-at-law Symone Mayhew, who represented the JPS, claimed that if the company had to pay the amount the unions wanted, it would no longer be viable and would have to close down. They also said that the $2.3 billion "was a global sum designed to bring the matter to a conclusion".
In 2008, the Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees, the National Workers' Union, and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union signed a Heads of Agreement with the JPS to pay the $2.3 billion, which was done.
However, the unions later contended that redundancy and overtime payments were not included in the agreement, and the matter was referred to the IDT. The tribunal held that the payment of $2.3 billion represented a negotiated settlement and dismissed the unions' claim.
The unions sought judicial review, and Justice Kirk Anderson quashed the award and sent it back to the IDT.
The JPS appealed and the court yesterday set aside Justice Anderson's ruling and affirmed the decision of the IDT.
Costs were awarded to the JPS to be taxed or agreed.
Lord Anthony Gifford, QC, and Emily Shields, who represented the IDT, had asked the court not to allow the appeal because the only meaning to be given to the Heads of Agreement was that it concerned basic pay and not overtime or redundancy.
They said that the court had a duty to protect the litigants in such a situation. Lord Gifford said that the unions could not have agreed to give up the workers' rights to be paid more money.
The Appeal Court, however, held that "there was no error of law on the record that would invoke the supervisory jurisdiction of the Supreme Court as the IDT acted in accordance with its terms of reference and there was admissible evidence upon which the IDT could have made the findings it did".