Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 7th 2014 Contents A26
letters on sunday
After writing on the recent NP
judgment on November 23, in the
Sunday Guardian, I was moved to dis-
cover whether such decision-making
was a trend or an aberration in the In-
Unfortunately, such judgments ap-
pear to be de rigueur. Let me share
another galling example dating from
July 2012. The facts are as follows:
Parties---Banking, Insurance and
General Workers Union (BIGWU) and
Housing Development Corporation
Case summary---An employee who
was on a three-year contract as a
senior project manager was dis-
missed after he served one year.
He earned $20,000 base salary
and $3,300 in allowances per month,
and a gratuity payable at end of con-
tract of 20 per cent of total gross
salary, unless terminated for cause or
The employee was terminated be-
cause he varied contracts upward by
$14 million without approval. He
changed building designs without
seeking approval from the managing
director, Tenders Committee or the
board of directors (against policy). He
allowed a resident's house to be de-
molished without trying to stop it or
taking any action whatsoever.
The union sought an award of
compensation plus exemplary dam-
ages of $1.5 million.
Court decision---The employee's
dismissal was harsh and oppressive.
The employee was awarded
$800,000 based on his sudden termi-
nation with two years left on the con-
tract; entitlement to a gratuity of 20
per cent if he successfully completed
his contract; claim that he was unable
to find employment for three years
after his dismissal; and separation
from his family who had returned to
Some questions immediately jump
to mind. Firstly, there is the union's
position. How did it come up with a
claim of $1.5 million?
Secondly, how exactly did the In-
dustrial Court arrive at the award of
$800,000 when the worker only had
two years left on his contract?
But the main point is this recurring
notion of the employer being "harsh
and oppressive" when it terminates
employees for outrageous conduct.
The evidence cited by the court ac-
cepted that the management had "for
a consistent period been dissatisfied"
with his level of project management,
and this dissatisfaction had been "re-
peatedly discussed" with the em-
ployee, "with a view to bringing about
a improvement in performance."
Therefore, this senior-level em-
ployee knew about his employer's dis-
satisfaction, had been given a chance
to improve, but failed to do so. So,
how could "the worker be said to
have suffered from sudden termina-
Furthermore, one week before the
employee received his termination
letter, he met the HR manager who
outlined his misconduct (as subse-
quently contained in his termination
This means that he had an oppor-
tunity to explain his position to the
HR manager and he responded the
next day in writing. He then met with
the managing director.
This was another opportunity to
say or write something on his own
behalf. Thus, he was not denied "nat-
ural justice," ie the right to face the
accuser and the right to be heard.
Employers read Industrial Court
judgments so that they can under-
stand how the court decides in favour
of one party over another and how it
arrives at its compensation awards.
When one reads this judgment,
one is at a loss to understand how
the employer lost the case and how
the $800,000 was derived. It appears
to be "pulled out of the air." No won-
der unions continue to ask the court
for huge sums.
Natural justice is a very important
principle and must be upheld.
However, the court's seemingly
carte blanche ability to cite employers
as "harsh and oppressive," allows the
worker to be both exonerated from
serious charges and handsomely re-
In this case, the employee commit-
ted his employer to $15 million with-
out proper authority and allowed the
destruction of someone's home. This
is financial impropriety and gross
negligence in any sane world. But the
court does not seem concerned with
the employee's guilt or the employer's
right to protect its business/assets
and the rights of its customers.
In the last few years, the Industrial
Court has been delivering judgments
with large compensation awards and
with no specific guidelines. The
awards seem to be getting larger.
Under the Industrial Relations Act,
employers are unable to challenge the
quantum of the court's awards.
All stakeholders must ensure that
the court does not go overboard in
the exercise of its "unbridled" power
to make companies pay exorbitant
sums, which they may or may not be
able to afford.
The court rightly does not want
employers to be "harsh and oppres-
sive" to workers. Equally, judgments
of the court must not be "harsh and
oppressive" to employers.
As I read the media reports of
two swearing-in ceremonies con-
ducted by our President this week--
the new High Court judge, Margaret
Mohammed on Monday and the
three-man team to probe the Las
Alturas apartments at Morvant on
Tuesday--it occurred to me that we
should all be aware of the pervasive
influence and real power of the Of-
fice of President.
This influence and power is
wielded primarily through the Presi-
dent's constitutional powers to ap-
point people to high office--whether
this is done independently or after
consultation or in accordance with
selections made and presented to
him in accordance with the Consti-
The single most notable example
of the President's power in making
appointments unfolded after the
2001 general election produced an
18-18 tie. (The then president,
Arthur N R Robinson had to decide
between the leaders of the two po-
litical parties with equal number of
seats in the House, who would be
prime minister. He chose Patrick
Manning over Basdeo Panday, and
the rest is history.)
Of almost routine political signifi-
cance however, each time there is a
new Parliament after a general elec-
tion, the President appoints nine in-
dependent senators, whom we all
now know can and do significantly
affect the course of political history
in this country.
Then, on a more mundane level,
the President, on his own authority,
appoints some 25 people to the En-
vironmental Commission, Environ-
mental Management Authority,
Law Reform Commission, Law Revi-
sion Commission, National Insur-
ance Appeals Tribunal and
Additionally, the President ap-
points a further 48 or so people,
after consultation with the Prime
Minister and the Leader of the Op-
So, our President appoints a total
of some 80 people, approximately
32 in his discretion and 48 after
consultations, to Parliament and the
various commissions, tribunals, and
authorities that affect virtually
every aspect of life in this country.
Two questions come to mind.
First, is the Office of the Presi-
dent provided with an appropriate,
independent budget so that the
President may acquire specialist,
professional advice and services to
identify and select appropriate peo-
ple for the various positions to
which he must appoint?
Second, should appointment to
the presidency, this most powerful
office in the land, in which the exec-
utive power of the State is vested,
be left to parliamentarians sitting
as an "electoral college" or should
our presidents be elected directly by
the citizenry as a whole?
Ashton S Brereton
According to the World Cancer Re-
search Fund International, using 2012
data, T&T is in the top ten among
men for cancer incidence.
Apart from building an Oncology
Centre, what are we doing to research
why we have such a high rate of can-
Certain chemicals which are
banned from use in other countries
are widely used on food crops here in
T&T. It is causing a silent revolution
towards organic produce.
The problem, however, is that many
locals think that organic means
"grown yourself" as opposed to not
In some countries there are rules
governing the time between spraying
and harvesting and, of course, what
chemicals can be used.
I remember a speech given by the
late president, his excellency Noor
Hassanali, dedicated to the environ-
ment at an opening of Parliament one
year. The speech was dedicated to
one topic rather than the usual range
of ills that need rectifying.
Like so many other aspects of life
in T&T, it is made harder by what V S
Naipaul calls the "ebullience and irre-
sponsibility" of our society.
Our leaders anxious for widespread
approval are quick to indulge negative
behaviour rather than dissuade
Some initiatives to protect the en-
vironment have been coming from
this administration, like the hybrid ve-
hicle tax break, Cepep marine, the
hunting moratorium, CNG buses, and
the proposed beverage container bill.
On the other hand, one of the first
measures taken by the Government
was to allow the importation of older
vehicles into the country in an at-
tempt to make them more affordable
to consumers. This has had the effect
of bringing more vehicles on to the al-
ready congested roadways and bol-
stering the toxic fume emissions
throughout our airways.
Perhaps even worse is that it has
eroded the discipline level required to
own a vehicle, resulting in a breed of
driver with little regard for the vehicle
as well as the lives that may be en-
dangered by it.
Cigarette butts are tossed out of
vehicles to damage large areas of
plant life after doing the internal dam-
age to the smoker.
Neither the roadways nor the Li-
censing Division has been up to the
task of managing the roll-on, roll-off
Meanwhile, between the dust and
the fumes, pedestrians are left to see
the air that they breathe.
The removal of the fuel subsidy on
premium fuel has further created an
incentive to use older vehicles while
punishing the driver opting for pre-
In larger, more developed countries,
managing large volumes of people
and waste is crucial to sustainability.
We need some more active interven-
tions such as state land for recycling
businesses, tree planting rather than
mere ornamental plants, and meas-
ures to discourage dumping.
There are many creative solutions
in existence already such as, legisla-
tion to include a disposal fee on elec-
tronic items at the point of purchase.
We just need to get started doing
something and changing the toxic cul-
ture we have developed over the
The real power of the President
Time to change our toxic culture
Harsh and oppressive 'justice'
Neval Chatelal serenades an employee of the Office of the Attorney General
during the ministry's annual staff appreciation and retirement function at the
MovieTowne Banquet Hall and Conference Centre, Invaders Bay, Port-of-Spain,
on Wednesday. PHOTO: CLYDE LEWIS
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt December 7, 2014
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