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.