General Manager of the state-owned National Conservation Commission (NCC) Keith Neblett this evening denied that he played the lead role in the controversial dismissal of 186 workers in April, 2014, saying he had simply carried out the instructions of his board of directors.
However, after testifying yesterday that the last in, first out policy had been followed in the course of the retrenchment exercise, the NCC head appeared to be on the back foot today, during nearly two hours of intense cross examination by attorney for the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Pat Cheltenham, QC.
In fact, the NCC boss was unable to provide any clear answers as to why Cutie Lynch, a worker who had ten years service with the statutory corporation, has been sent home ahead of some of her colleagues who were employed for less than five years.
A loud buzz was heard among members of the packed audience at the Warrens Office Complex when Neblett was forced to agree with Cheltenham that Lynch, who had no medical challenges and no complaints about her performance, fitted at least two of the criteria set by the NCC for allowing workers to remain on the job.
Pressed further to explain why Lorena Bradshaw-Mason and Charmaine Cox, who were hired on January 28, 2013, and Alfred Cornelius, who started work on May 5, 2013, have been allowed to continue on, Neblett was unable to give a straight answer.
“I would have to check the records . . . I would have to check if they are still there,” he said, adding, “I don’t know if they fell in the socio-economic [criteria for remaining on staff]. I don’t know.”
His apparent difficulty in explaining the process by which workers were terminated proved to be quite frustrating for the NUPW attorney, forcing Chairman of the Tribunal Hal Gollop, QC, to intervene and to urge Cheltenham to move on to another line of questioning.
Earlier, the NCC General Manager was tested on the method used to determine which staff had socio-economic challenges.
While admitting that no evaluation was done, Neblett rejected Cheltenham’s suggestion that the selection process was therefore arbitrary.
“I would not consider it arbitrary,” the NCC boss said.
“Was it objective and rational?” the senior lawyer asked.
“I would say it was as objective as it can be,” the witness replied.
It was then that, the cross-examiner pointed out to Neblett that one of the terminated employees had nine children.
“I would have to check the records,” the NCC general manager responded.
Before concluding his cross examination, Cheltenham drew the witness’ attention to the Employment Rights Act and the provision which required employers to either consult with workers to be made redundant and provide them with a written statement of the reason, or consult with the trade union representing the worker before the action was taken. Neblett admitted that neither course was taken.
Today’s proceedings were in contrast to yesterday’s hearing which was marked by several heated exchanges between the lead attorney for the NCC Mitch Codrington and Gollop.
In fact, in the absence of Codrington, who sent in a doctor’s sick certificate, there were frequent bouts of humour. Codrington, meanwhile, had requested by email that the hearing be adjourned until February 2.
However, Gollop turned down his request and ruled that there would be no more adjournments.
Though present, Codrington’s junior partner Casey Boyce declined to act, stating she had no instructions to proceed.
As a result, the Chairman did the questioning of Neblett for nearly an hour before offering the witness to Cheltenham for cross-examination.
On conclusion of Cheltenham’s questioning, the Chairman ruled that the taking of evidence was now complete and counsel’s final address to the Tribunal would be done on February 2 at 1 p.m. at the Warrens Office Complex.