Local cement manufacturer Trinidad Cement Limited (TCL) has been reprimanded and discharged by the Industrial Court for terminating 16 workers without giving them prior notice.
Delivering a nine-page judgment at the court’s headquarters in Port-of-Spain, president of the Industrial Court Deborah Thomas-Felix and members Albert Aberdeen and Morton Mitchell ruled that although TCL was guilty of an industrial relations offence it should face no further action as the Oilfields’ Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) was complicit.
“The union cannot “approbate and reprobate” at the same time,” the judges said.
The union filed the offence after the company retrenched the workers in September, last year.
The case centred around the court’s interpretation of the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act and the collective agreement between the company and the union.
While the legislation stipulates a minimum of 45 days notice, the collective agreement allowed for 50 days of notice to be waived in circumstances where the company agrees to pay the workers for the full period.
“It is trite law that legislation enacted by the Parliament cannot be negotiated, altered or waived during the collective bargaining process unless the legislation specifically provides for such alteration, negotiation or waiver,” the judges said.
They also said that the legislation did provide the circumstances when the time frame could be shortened.
“Employers are duty-bound, in law and in the practice of good industrial relations, to prove that there are unforeseen circumstances and show that those unforeseen circumstances are of such a nature that it is impractical or impossible to comply with the requirements for a minimum period of notice,” they said.
However, they noted that notice is an essential element of the retrenchment process.
“Indeed, the period of notice of retrenchment provides the worker with the opportunity to prepare for whatever his/her future may be and to adjust to the new situation, as well as for the company to use that period to see if there are other areas within the organisation, where the worker can secure alternative employment in an effort to mitigate and/or to reduce the impact of the proposed retrenchment,” they said.
As part of its judgement, the court ordered the parties to correct the offending section of the collective agreement within 14 days.
The union was represented by industrial relations consultant Harrison Thompson while attorney Derek Ali represented TCL.