Jul 18, 2013 News
…picket head office
Nine former employees of the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) are not taking their recent dismissals lying down. Through Attorney-at-Law Basil Williams, the sacked workers served legal documents on the Energy Agency for wrongful dismissal.
Nine writs of summons were filed at the High Court last week. The employees are seeking damages in excess of $100,000 for wrongful termination; severance pay/redundancy, and damages in excess of $100,000 for mental stress. The workers also want to be reinstated at the agency.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has also renewed calls for an independent probe into the firing of the workers.
APNU has for some time expressed concerns about the use of the polygraph by the GEA to dismiss workers, despite its inherent unreliability and inadmissibility in many judicial jurisdictions including the United States of America.
A press release from the Office of the Opposition Leader stated that several of the terminated GEA staffers, due to the nature of their termination, are finding great difficulty in securing employment. They said these persons who visited his office also feel that they have been blacklisted. As a result, APNU is urging that a quick resolution be brought to the matter.
Some dismissed employees picketed the GEA office on Tuesday. They are adamant that there is enough evidence for officials, especially the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mahendra Sharma, to take polygraph tests also.
The dismissed workers were let go over a period when polygraph testing was being conducted. This, government officials said, is to maintain the integrity and transparency of the agency.
The workers were dismissed for either failing polygraph tests or for refusing to participate. The workers concluded that their terminations were acts of victimization and were arbitrary, since the universal notion is that one cannot be fired based on polygraph tests alone; nor can one be fired for refusing to be tested since the process is a voluntary one.
Moreover, the employees said that there are several inconsistencies which they say deserve to be investigated as corrupt practices at the GEA. Vernon James, one of the sacked employees, said that he is aware that the agency is spending millions of dollars to repair equipment and still they don’t function efficiently.
He said that he has been an employee with GEA from the time it was set up. It is the second time that he is being dismissed from the agency.
James said that he was first dismissed after he unearthed a fuel scam between a gas station and a fishery. He said he found pipelines transferring unmarked fuel from the gas station to the fishery. He alleged bringing the matter to Sharma’s attention but was shrugged off.
A month following the discovery, James said he lost his job, but was later reinstated by late CEO Joseph O’Lall; to whom he directly reported. After O’Lall’s death, James said he was back under Sharma’s directions.
James continued that in 2010 he was never told about being tested. He said the authorities said that he would have to turn up for an interview. It was only later he would become aware that it was a lie detector test.
He said it was the government who said that the test is not mandatory. He further asked whether he would get the results of the test, but was reportedly told no. The test, he was told, would go to Dr. Roger Luncheon and then to GEA’s CEO.
James said that he therefore refused the test. He said that he was however told by Sharma before his dismissal that from 2010 to now, he had not done the lie detector test and that he (Sharma) had no choice but to fire him.
He said that Sharma told him that there were allegations of him taking bribes. But when he asked why he was now hearing about it and why there was never a confrontation with those persons, Sharma reportedly told him that he did not have time for that.
Fitzroy Thomas said he was with the GEA for more than five years. He was an analytical inspector when it was discovered that a trawler; Captain Nicholas, was smuggling fuel into the country. The owner, he said, pleaded guilty and paid a court fine.
The boat owner was not made to pay duty to the Guyana Revenue Authority or fines associated with the smuggling of fuel. Despite many attempts to have Sharma address the matter, Thomas said the matter was brushed off.
The boat and some of the illegal fuel were returned to the owner, he alleged. Thomas also made allegations that some $10M was paid off, while persons received all expense paid family trips to Barbados.
Takisha Gordon said that she is having difficulty finding work. She said that she has attended several interviews and was not successful. When she gives them GEA as a work reference, the employers usually said you are one of those in the GEA thing, she claimed.
They never reply to the application, she stated.
The protestors said they have taken legal action and await their day in court. They held up placards saying that bribes are paid at GEA, that the agency task force is not functioning and that the agency is race based.
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