Six former workers of Belize Water Services Limited are suing their ex-employer alleging wrongful termination, however the company claims it has had a long-standing restructuring plan in place that began to be seriously implemented in 2012 after a rate cut of over 7% from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). The trial continued today before Justice Michelle Arana in the Supreme Court with Charlette Barnett, Journett McKoy and Michael Novelo taking the stand and facing cross-examination from BWS’ attorney, Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams. A pattern emerged where each employee said they were not aware that management was contemplating cuts in the workforce specifically, although they acknowledged that cost-cutting was a topic on the agenda for the union and management. They also claim they were only recent made aware of communication between the water workers’ union and BWS management with regard to the issue of possible redundancy, beginning with 2 workers down south in Dangriga. But as Rodwell Williams tells us, it is difficult to divorce the two.
“As much as the claimants would try to make it appear as if they were unaware of redundancy, since 2009 the company strategic plan had indicated its cost cutting. Cost cutting raises issues with regard to redundancy. Then in 2012, when the tariffs were cut seven point two percent, the company ratchet up its exercise to achieve efficiency and cut cost, which again raised the issue of redundancy and all the claimants were aware of the heightened issue with regard to redundancy, prior to and long before there was any redundancy. Yet you have heard them seek to avoid conceding that they knew of it. It was not anything unusual and surprising.”
According to Mr Williams, the memorandum from BWS’ CEO Alvan Haynes released within the company on February 7 had nothing to do with the firing of these workers, but with unconnected firings that took place a day earlier but they have been conflated by the suing ex-workers.
“Furthermore as the evidence unfolds, we discovered that the company has always been keeping the union informed, by correspondence, with regard to all the redundancies. So it is really quite surprising that the redundant claimants in this case seek to assert that they had no knowledge and they were totally surprised and that in fact the regrettable memorandum, which alluded to the termination of some people, is sought to be relied upon as the unfair basis for their termination. Well in fact, as you heard today, the evidence is in fact that even one of the claimants, who was terminated subsequent to this memo, he was terminated on the fourteenth and the memo came out on the seventh of February 2013. Yet he is relying in his claim on a memo that preceded. So the termination included in the memo could not have been his termination.”
So was anyone, including the workers now suing the utility, ever actually faced action in regard to the mass circulation of salacious and malicious information regarding internal behavior? Rodwell Williams says no.
“No one was let go in light of that investigation. The investigation never charged anybody, never accused anybody. It was merely an investigation. It’s quite interesting [that] since the redundancy, it turned out that the whole crisis has passed away, with regard to those letters and the object of that investigation.”
Rodwell Williams confirmed that the company paid each redundant employee their full final payment, including in the case of Mark Menzies his 12 years of pre-pension severance pay. He has sued claiming otherwise. BWS union president Lorelei Westby took the witness stand Wednesday afternoon at the start of the defense case and testified that the union was told by management about specific cases of redundancy with regard to two security workers at the Dangriga water treatment plant, but none of the six plaintiffs were listed. The case has been further adjourned to sometime later this year, due to a full court schedule.