‘Give them an inch, they take a yard’

By CCN Senior Writer Andy Johnson

Story Created: Sep 1, 2009 ECT

Story Updated: Feb 5, 2011 at 10:58 AM ECT

CCN Senior Writer Andy Johnson continues his examination of the issues surrounding the dismissal of 30 senior employees from WASA on April 30.


IT WENT TOO FAR: Shafeek Sultan-Khan

SHAFEEK Sultan-Khan laughs off the enquiry as to whether he has said that the State’s pockets are deep, and therefore his board at WASA is prepared to pay for the mass dismissals of workers it has taken.

The board wishes it had the kind of money it needs to do the work necessary to effect the turnaround it is working towards, the WASA board chairman said last week.

Further, he said, the authority had and still has no intentions of wanting to send people home, contrary to what some of those dismissed workers, and perhaps others still in its employ, have come to believe.

“Sometimes board policies are misinterpreted and mis-communicated,” he said, supported in this position by board member Dr Andre Vincent Henry, chairman of the human resources sub-committee.

What the dismissed workers claimed was an attempt to get attention to their concerns for the transfer of some of their number to the new waste water services operation being put in place, the board members say was an attempt to negotiate terms and conditions, including VSEP, for workers.

“We cannot negotiate terms and conditions with them,” Sultan-Khan and Henry said, even acknowledging what this duo admits was a risky move by Sultan-Khan to meet with a group of these workers.

Even though those workers did not enjoy representation by the recognised union, the Public Services Association, Sultan-Khan said he felt as the employer, he had a duty to meet with them to hear their legitimate grievances and their concerns. The incident on March 11 was one that just went too far, both men said last week.

Prior to this incident also, the board had dismissed a group of other workers, members of the executive management, in a move which Public Utilities Minister Mustapha Abdul-Hamid hailed on August 26 as courageous. He said the board had lost confidence in these senior managers. They included Gerald Richardson, the General Manager, Human Resources; Godfrey Ventour, GM-Business Services and Wayne Joseph, GM-Operations.

As evidence of their intentions to deal in good faith with those workers who were committed to the new ethos being developed at the authority, the board’s leading duo said they had settled long-standing issues of compensation with such employees as Leroy Baptiste and Salim Muwakil, two of those dismissed on April 30.

But, they said, it was clear to them that “loyalty to the authority” was being sacrificed in what they saw as some of the workers’ fight with the PSA, as well as wanting to continue having their own way.

A culture of laissez-fair was deeply entrenched at the authority, these board members said last week, Henry adding that “you give them an inch, they take a yard”.

Following their suspensions over the March 11 incident, the workers were required to submit reasons for their actions to Anand Ramsoondar, who was appointed to investigate.

Ramsoondar held no direct meetings with any of the workers. He wrote to them on March 20 and following their individual replies to him, the workers were notified of their dismissals by letter dated April 30. These came from Marie Iton, the new GM Human Capital.

They were accused of four main offences—unauthorised access to the executive suites on the fourth floor; participating in an unauthorised meeting; disregarding instructions from security officers and participating in an unauthorised gathering on the fourth floor.

To all these charges the workers pleaded not guilty. They were awaiting further correspondence when their dismissal letters arrived. They claim no grievance, nor disciplinary procedure was followed, contrary to their interpretations of the existing collective agreement. And as they seek to fight the dismissals, they are questioning the basis on which all those who are represented by the PSA have or are being rehired.

In one of the letters to investigator Ramsoondar, Mervyn Gibson said his actions on March 11 did not constitute misconduct “within the meaning of Section 24 of the collective agreement”.

“The issue affecting the vast majority of monthly-paid employees is the quality of representation being given by the PSA executive. There is no issue with the management of the authority. The issue with the PSA stems from expulsion of branch officers and the general disenfranchisement of a large number of WASA monthly-paid employees by the PSA.

“And as a consequence, the PSA failure/refusal to keep those employees in the loops on critical issues affecting the welfare of their families. It is this alienation of a significant number of monthly-paid employees by the PSA which is the root of the issues.”

Saying that workers had no issue with the Cabinet decision to create the waste water services operation, Gibson’s letter noted that workers were “anxious over the implications of the decision on our job and income security. Moreover, notwithstanding the serious implications associated with Cabinet’s decision and in contravention of the IRA and indeed the spirit and intent of the collective agreement, when employees attempted to attend the PSA meeting on March 11, they were denied admission because they were not members, contrary to Departmental circular staff (sic) no 11 of 2009.

“Further it should be noted that management also provided information to employees at the said PSA meeting,” the letter stated.

Both Sultan-Khan and Henry concur that those workers with no union representation are in virtual I.R. no-man’s-land. For this reason, Sultan-Khan said he felt there was ground under the old “Master and Servant Act” which allowed him to meet and treat with those workers and their legitimate grievances.

It did not produce the results he may have hoped for, even as he pleads no malicious intent in the board’s subsequent mass dismissals.

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