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Industrial Court fair to all -
Industrial Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix is denying allegations that she and her colleagues are biased against employers.
Delivering her annual address at a special sitting of the court for the opening of the 2018/2019 Law Term yesterday, Thomas-Felix provided statistics which she said disproved allegations over the court’s independence.
“It is my sincere hope that the facts would serve to dispel the misconceptions and unfounded statements that tend to be repeated and amplified in this regard,” Thomas-Felix said.
She pointed out that of the 2,744 cases filed before the court from 2011 to 2015, 27 per cent or 747 matters resulted in judgements from the adversarial process between employers and trade unions. Of those 747 matters, 30 per cent were decided in favour of employers.
In terms of non-adversarial matters during that period, Thomas-Felix noted that 15.6 per cent (427 cases) were disposed of via conciliation, 19.6 per cent (539 cases) were resolved bilaterally and 24.9 per cent (683 cases) were withdrawn.
As she examined the rate of withdrawal of matters, she noted there was an increase from 24.9 per cent between 2011 and 2015 to 35.4 per cent last year. She also noted that the court dismissed 23 cases last year due to the failure of unions to prosecute them.
“In short, those outcomes were in the employers’ favour. These are not outcomes that are widely repeated, although they reflect the reality of the work of the court,” Thomas-Felix said.
In a veiled jab at critics of the court, Thomas-Felix stated: “Similarly, it must be acknowledged that the companies that value their human resources, respect the country’s labour laws and policies and maintain the practice of good industrial relations, are unlikely to be involved in matters which are not settled in a manner agreeable to all parties.”
Thomas-Felix repeatedly pledged that the court would continue to carry out its duties in a fair and balanced manner.
“We will never violate the rights of any one of the social partners and we are committed to fulfilling the mission of the court to uphold the principles and practices of good industrial relations as pillars of industrial peace, economic and social development,” she said.
In her speech, Thomas-Felix also called upon businesses, trade unions and the Government to engage in tripartite discussions on improving occupational safety and health, disaster risk reduction, labour migration policies and policies on workplace harassment.
“These challenges, in my view, can only be properly addressed when the social partners come together and work together,” she said, as she suggested dialogue could be facilitated through the National Tripartite Advisory Council (NTAC).
“I urge you, the stakeholders, to seize this opportunity and to build on the current momentum such that we create workplaces and workspaces in all spheres that are safe for everyone,” she said.
In a brief interview with the T&T Guardian after Thomas-Felix’s speech, Communication Workers Union (CWU) head Clyde Elder said he supported her attempt to defend the integrity of the court.
“I think that if it was anyone should be saying that the court is biased should be the unions, but we are not saying that. We understand that at the end of the day we would not win all matters and while we come to court and get judgements that we are not happy with, we stay away from saying that the court is on the side of the employer or the union.
“The court has a role to play and that is to remain neutral, independent and unbiased and to ensure that they maintain law and order in the society in terms of industrial relations,” Elder said.
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