Industrial Court President disturbed by claims court favours unions, workers

Date: 
Tuesday, September 17, 2019 - 20:45

In­dus­tri­al Court Pres­i­dent Deb­o­rah Thomas-Fe­lix has once again re­ject­ed claims that her or­gan­i­sa­tion favours trade unions and their mem­bers. 

For the sec­ond time in two years, Thomas-Fe­lix used her an­nu­al ad­dress at the open­ing of the new law term at the In­dus­tri­al Court’s head­quar­ters in Port-of-Spain, to ad­dress pub­lic crit­i­cism over the in­de­pen­dence of the court. 

 

Thomas-Fe­lix said: “Those types of com­ments are dis­turb­ing, they are alarm­ing and si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly sad. Sad be­cause it shows a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the work of the In­dus­tri­al Court and al­so be­cause they are di­rect at­tacks on the in­tegri­ty of the court.” 

Thomas-Fe­lix de­scribed claims that the Court blocks the ter­mi­na­tion of work­ers as er­ro­neous, as she claimed that it reg­u­lar­ly up­holds such ac­tion once it is done in ac­cor­dance with the law and good in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions. 

“This is not an ex­cep­tion, it is the norm,” Thomas-Fe­lix said. 

She al­so sug­gest­ed that some em­ploy­ers lose their cas­es as they refuse to par­tic­i­pate in the court process. 

“These em­ploy­ers ig­nore the sev­er­al sum­mons­es and or­ders sent by the court. They will not at­tend case man­age­ment hear­ings nor do they at­tend open court hear­ings,” Thomas-Fe­lix said. 

Thomas-Fe­lix al­so not­ed that there was no pro­vi­sion for em­ploy­ers and trade unions to be­come judges of the court. 

“I wish to re­mind stake­hold­ers and the pub­lic in gen­er­al that the In­dus­tri­al Re­la­tions Act pro­vides that the Judges of the Court must be qual­i­fied econ­o­mists, at­tor­neys-at-law, ac­coun­tants and in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions ex­perts,” Thomas-Fe­lix said. 

De­spite her com­ments, Thomas-Fe­lix still sought to en­cour­age pub­lic di­a­logue on whether the court should evolve. 

“What­ev­er is con­tem­plat­ed or con­cep­tu­al­ized for a new in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions frame­work in T&T, we the mem­bers of the In­dus­tri­al Court will ac­cept and em­brace it,” she said. 

Thomas-Fe­lix’s com­ments came less than a month af­ter the T&T Cham­ber of Com­merce and In­dus­try (TTCIC) raised con­cerns over the dis­con­tin­u­ance of con­tempt of court pro­ceed­ings against it, its CEO Gabriel Faria and busi­ness­man Frank Mout­tet. 

The three par­ties were sum­moned by the court af­ter Mout­tet claimed that the court was bi­ased against em­ploy­ers dur­ing a break­fast meet­ing held by the or­gan­i­sa­tion in 2016.

The case was dis­con­tin­ued by the court af­ter the Joint Trade Union Move­ment (JTUM), an in­ter­est­ed par­ty, failed to file ev­i­dence in the case for over two years. 

Dur­ing her speech, Thomas-Fe­lix al­so sought to re­port on the court’s per­for­mance over the past year. 

Ac­cord­ing to her, be­tween Sep­tem­ber 2018 and this month, there were 1410 new cas­es filed be­fore the court- a 237 in­crease on the pre­vi­ous year. 

How­ev­er, there was a de­crease in the dis­po­si­tion rate of cas­es with 858 mat­ters be­ing dealt with over the past year as com­pared to 1071 mat­ters dur­ing the pre­vi­ous pe­ri­od. Of the cas­es filed, trade dis­putes were the largest in num­ber fol­lowed by re­trench­ment and sev­er­ance ben­e­fits and oc­cu­pa­tion­al safe­ty and health. 

- by Derek Achong. Photo by Abraham Diaz.

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