Taxpayers now have to foot close to $10 million in damages to 20 former employees of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) who were dismissed by the Kamla Persad-Bissessar regime.
The Industrial Court, in a ruling handed down on Wednesday, minced no words, with the panel describing the dismissals as “patently egregious” while, at the same time, slamming the Ministry of National Security under the former administration for not tendering a defence despite being ordered by the courts to do so.
The three-member judges’ panel was chaired by Sandra Ramparas and included members Gregory Rousseau and Melviwn Daniel.
Appearing for the Ministry of National Security and the Chief Personnel Officer were attorneys Anthony Bullock and Derrick Ali while the Communications Workers Union (CWU) represented the 20 fired employees.
Several of the fired 20 were named in a list forming part of a report dated October 15, 2010, submitted by Snr Supt of Police Surajdeen Persad, then second in command at Special Branch at the time, to Persad-Bissessar.
They were determined to be have had “close links with the PNM and occupy senior and influential positions at the SIA”.
In his correspondence to Persad-Bissessar, Persad said, “the situation at the SIA warrants immediate attention. If sensitive information from that unit is allowed to be clandestinely sent to leading members of the PNM, it would undermine the legitimate constituted Government of T&T and ultimately lead to its downfall.”
He had recommended that the director of SIA, as well other persons, be relieved of their positions immediately, in order to safeguard the flow of sensitive information to the People’s National Movement (PNM) and other persons linked to SIA director Nigel Clement.
“Additionally, Persad had recommended that an interim management committee, headed by SIA’s Reshmi Ramnarine (technical operator) and Carlton Dennie, among others, be appointed “immediately to protect the assets of the State”.
The Industrial Court judges said having adduced all the evidence, they found the workers were summarily dismissed. “This employer failed miserably to support with cogent, compelling evidence what peculiar and special circumstances prevented them from adhering to the rules of natural justice, with respect to the lockout and the dismissals. Simply put, these dismissals were patently egregious,” the judgment said.
Additionally, the panel took issue with the National Security Ministry failing to follow the court’s orders, which they ignored “to file evidence and arguments in this matter”.
The panel said, “No reason was advanced as to why they failed to comply with the court’s orders. Instructively, attorney-at-law for the ministry Mr D Ali failed to appear on the 16th January, 2019, which was the last date of hearing. Neither the ministry nor Mr Ali communicated with the court to explain the reasons for their absence and the non-compliance with the court’s orders”.
The panel added that based on what was presented to the court, the Interception of Communication Act No. 11 of 2010 “was conveniently used as a ruse in the employer’s quest to justify the egregious nature of the workers’ dismissals”.
Describing the dismissals as “harsh, oppressive and contrary to all of the basic principles of good and proper Industrial Relations practices”, the court ordered the fired workers be compensated, with the vast majority of the damages ordered comprising “essentially, the salaries, gratuity and vacation leave the workers would have earned for the remainder of their fixed-term contracts”.
The court noted, in ordering the awards, consideration was given to: “the oppressive, harsh and egregious nature of the workers’ dismissal. (2) The salaries, gratuity and vacation leave they would have earned for the remaining duration of their contracts had they not been dismissed”.
The damages, which total $9,630,652, must be paid on or before September 15, 2020.