There was a dramatic shift today in the case between the state-owned Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) and the workers who were to be forcibly retired at the end of next month because they had reached the age of 60.
Seven of the ten employees had filed an injunction in an attempt to force the BIDC to abort the controversial retirement plans, which led to a tense industrial relations climate and a near shutdown of the country last month.
The presiding judge Justice Jacqueline Cornelius announced on Monday August 10 that a ruling could be expected this Friday or on September 2 if the Friday deadline could not be met. However, the case took an unexpected turn when the hearing resumed this morning, with the lawyer for the seven employees, Gregory Nicholls, advising the court that they had withdrawn the injunction.
Nicholls revealed during a 15-minute hearing that his clients had accepted an offer from the BIDC to extend the retirement date to December 31 while continuing to pay their salaries, allowing the court to conduct a full judicial review of the BIDC’s decision. The hearing will take place from December 15 to 18.
“The parties have agreed a course of action that would allow the matter to go to trial in as quick a time as possible. So the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation have again extended the offer not to act on the retirement as at September 30, but they would pay our clients up to December 31. Having got that offer, my clients have agreed to stay the application for the injunction and we will be going to trial sometime in December,” Nicholls told Barbados TODAY shortly after today’s sitting.
“We have put a timetable in place to make sure that we have filed all the relevant affidavits, witness statements and exchange of documents and all the necessary pre-trial memoranda that have to be filed. We have set a timetable for filing so that we can get to pre-trial review on 30 October. In that way, we anticipate we will be able to get to trial when the judge is available sometime in early December,” he added.
The attorney said his clients were happy that the matter would go to trial earlier than expected, and that they could plan their future “with some certainty”.
“We are happy we have achieved all of our objectives and we are grateful the BIDC has extended this facility to my clients so that the courts can do what the courts have to do determine the issues between the parties.”
Nicholls said both sides had agreed to submit all of the necessary documents early in order to expedite the trial, and that they hoped for a ruling before the December 31 deadline. He explained that once the trail begins there would be little cross-examination, with affidavits serving as witness statements.
“So when we get to trial it would just be a matter of ironing out those knots or amplifying those difficult points that we have to amplify. We anticipate the judge should be able to give a decision – it might not be a written decision – in December, but at least an oral one . . . from the bench. And that is the ambitious plan that we have,” the lawyer for the retiring BIDC workers disclosed.
He also revealed that he would drop the injunction against Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite because he had been advised that the Accountant General had not started calculating or processing the pensions of those being sent home.
“The Attorney General was brought in initially as a representative party because there was an intimation or indication from the BIDC that they had written to the Treasury to process and calculate the pensions due to our clients. At the beginning we thought it was the right thing to do to ask the court to stop the processing and calculation and certification of those pensions. The only way we could have got that done was to have an injunction against the person who was processing, calculating and certifying the pensions, which would be the Accountant General and then the Auditor General, who certifies,” he said, explaining that the Attorney General was named as a representative of the various departments.
Commenting afterwards, BIDC’s Chief Executive Officer Sonja Trotman told Barbados TODAY she was pleased at the development and hoped a resolution would be achieved by year-end. Trotman also pointed out that the offer to extend the retirement date was the same one which the workers’ representative the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the very employees rejected several weeks ago during a sub-committee meeting of the Social Partnership chaired by Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer.
When contacted this afternoon, NUPW President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY if the workers had agreed to something that was contrary to the union’s position, he would discuss the matter with Nicholls to determine the way forward.
However, McDowall continued to insist on a meeting of the sub-committee of the Social Partnership to clarify what had been agreed between the union and the BIDC in order to protect the integrity of the Social Partnership.