More than three months after an alleged slapping incident between an estate manager and a
worker ended in crippling sugar industry strikes; there seems no clear way forward.
This is because Sole Arbitrator, Mohamed Akeel, has announced that he could not proceed further and was unable to determine whether the dismissal of the worker was justified.
Akeel, during the announcement of his ruling and conclusion of the dismissal of Daniel Stephen, said that he had to “bring this Arbitration to an end by ruling that Mr. Daniel Stephen remains dismissed but whether the dismissal was justified or not, I was not allowed to determine.”
The end came to the arbitration proceedings because the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) were unable to agree whether the mill dock operator was dismissed or suspended.
The announcement was made yesterday by Akeel at GAWU’s headquarters in Kingston, during a press conference. There were several union representatives and GuySuCo’s Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Raj Singh.
Singh said that he was unable to comment on the ruling of the Arbitrator as he has to read the report.
GAWU will be speaking with its lawyer, Roysdale Forde, to determine how to proceed.
According to Akeel, in his report, on the night of September 19, 2014, there was an incident within the vicinity of the Mill Dock at Skeldon estate involving the Estate Manager, Devendra ‘Dave’ Kumar and Stephen.
News reports had said some slapping was involved. The worker was dismissed by Kumar who also give him marching orders, confirming the dismissal via a letter the following day. The incident sparked strikes and a shutdown of estates with countrywide blackouts after the Skeldon co-generation plant was unable to operate.
The matter went to arbitration after GAWU and GuySuCo were unable to agree on the way forward.
Akeel said that he was appointed the Arbitrator to “to enquire into the disciplinary action taken against Mr. Daniel Stephen and having regard to the evidence and submission by the parties to make an award as the arbitrator deems fit”.
The Tribunal was required to enquire into the disciplinary action taken against Stephen.
However, from the statements of both GuySuCo and the union, it was clear that different positions were taken– GuySuCo maintained that it was dismissal while the union said it was disciplinary action.
GAWU then wanted a decision as to what was the disciplinary action before they proceed.
“This request of the Union opened up a whole new can of worms. I was now tasked with determining what the disciplinary action was taken against Mr. Daniel Stephen. The position of the corporation was that Mr. Stephen was dismissed but the letter was amended to get persons back at work; the Union contended that the dismissal was changed to suspension.”
Akeel said that he should never have been tasked with determining the disciplinary action.
“The Terms of Reference should have been clear and unambiguous. It seems that the parties, including the Ministry, could not interpret the Terms of Resumption they deliberated on, agreed to and signed, and took the easy way out.”
For further clarification, Akeel said that he reviewed the recommendation of Chief Labour Officer (CLO), Charles Ogle, who had chaired the initial conciliatory meetings.
“The grievance that led to the strike was dismissal, not suspension; so how could the CLO treat with suspension?”
He said, “The Terms of Reference require that I enquire into the disciplinary action taken against Mr. Stephen, which meant that the parties accepted that disciplinary action was taken against Mr. Stephen.
However, the nature of the action was in dispute, but since, from my analysis, I find that the action was not suspension as claim by the Union, then it follows that the Corporation’s position that the dismissal was recalled to get the workers to resume work, but that Mr. Stephen was still dismissed is the disciplinary action that should have been enquired into but the Union, as I said, failed to attend.
“It should be noted also, that the parties accepted that the dismissal was not disturbed since they agreed and conciliated on the dismissal.”
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