The Industrial Court’s recent decision to discontinue its inquiry into allegations of contempt of court raised by the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) against the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce (TTCIC) has raised more questions than it has provided answers according to a media release yesterday from the T&T Chamber of Industry and Commerce.
The media release said while the Chamber is relieved that “good sense has prevailed” in this matter, a number of “burning issues” remain unresolved.
In 2016, Gabriel Faria, CEO, T&T Chamber of Commerce and two other men were issued with summons to appear before the Court on a charge of contempt of court, over statements made from the floor by businessman Frank Mouttet.
At a Chamber event, Mouttet said the Industrial Court was to be blamed for decreased levels of productivity in the country, which was making it increasingly difficult for employers to terminate workers. Mouttet was also said to have hinted that the court was harsh and oppressive towards employers while favouring workers and their representative unions.
JTUM issued a full-page ad in the Trinidad Guardian and referring to Mouttet’s comments said: “It shows not only a complete misunderstanding of the Court, but also a gross disrespect for such an important institution, which was created by statute to mediate and provide some level of stability to the industrial relations climate in our country.”
In yesterday’s media release the T&T Chamber said: “The business community has for a long time been expressing concern about the Court’s judgements, many of which they believe to have been arbitrary, unfair and irrational. It was in response to these perceptions that the Chamber held a breakfast meeting in November 2016 on ‘The Impact of Industrial Court Judgements On Your Business.’ A sitting Industrial Court judge was the featured speaker and the panel discussion that followed included the said judge, a senior member of the Faculty of Law (UWI), an industrial relations consultant and an industrial relations attorney.
“During the discussion period, various parties criticised the Court’s mode of operation, citing examples of outcomes that they felt to be wholly unfair. The prevailing opinion was that the industrial relations environment was a constraint to productivity because of employers’ inability to get fair judgements at the Court.”
The media release said following news reports on the discussion JTUM issued a paid advertisement which alleged contempt of the Court on the part of the Chamber and participating speakers.
The Court subsequently “commanded” the Chamber, Gabriel Faria, Frank Mouttet, and Derek Ali to appear before it in connection with an inquiry into a possible contempt of court and provide as evidence every conceivable form of recorded material related to the breakfast meeting.
“In the months that followed, the Chamber and the three gentlemen incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees preparing for a Court’s inquiry. JTUM requested and were allowed to be a party to the inquiry. Two years and eight months later they have failed to provide a single statement or any evidence in support of their claim.”
The media release said the Court’s August 7th order to discontinue the inquiry has, according to the Court, resulted from JTUM’s failure to respond and this outcome has left the Chamber “even more dissatisfied with the Court than it was before.”
“The Industrial Court summoned the TTCIC (and two private citizens) to an inquiry that stemmed from a statement by JTUM alleging contempt of court by individuals who questioned The Court’s rulings in a public forum. Should the Court have the right to be judge and jury in a matter related to its own impartiality? Do citizens of T&T, have a right to voice opinions on the operations of the institutions of the country? The Court’s decision to discontinue its inquiry has left this concern unresolved. Where, for example, is the line drawn between freedom of expression and contempt? Isn’t free speech a basic tenet of a functioning democracy?” the Chamber asked.