On November 25, Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana issued a judgment in favour of six terminated workers from Belize Water Services Limited who sued for wrongful dismissal. They received three months’ salary and vacation pay for that dismissal, which came as a result of salacious letters circulated among staff members nearly three years ago. The group – Mark Menzies, Don Gillett, Charlette Barnett, Michael Novelo, Colin Morrison and Journett McKoy – are awaiting a decision by Justice Arana on general damages related to the case. The news tonight is that Belize Water Services Limited (BWS) will NOT be appealing the judgment, as time expired yesterday, Tuesday, for them to do so. The public utility’s chairman, Alberto August, told us this evening via telephone, quote, “the company has no intention of prolonging the matter and the employees will be compensated.” End quote. When we asked if the company would abide by the court’s decision on compensation, he said they would. Before we spoke to August, two of the workers, Don Gillett and Michael Novelo, visited with PLUS News to give their take. They brought along a printed copy of the decision, which is now final. In paragraph 47 of her judgment (pages 32-33), Justice Arana said she was “bemused” by the appearance of the BWS Workers’ Union president, Lorelei Westby, in court to testify against her colleagues. She found that Westby had abdicated her duties and failed to serve her colleagues in their time of need. Novelo and Gillett told us that Westby’s actions were not all that surprising to them, especially since her signature appears at the bottom of the circulated letters, though their authorship was never determined.
Worker 1: From the day we went to court it was surprising that she actually, that’s why I keep reiterating that we were abandoned by our union because she basically did nothing. She sided with management even though I was the second vice president, Miss Barnett who got terminated with me was the general secretary and she didn’t do anything at all. She actually sided with management and presented herself and testified in a written statement that cooperated with what management was saying, even though they didn’t have any evidence or anything of the sort.
Worker 2: From the beginning we saw the cut of Miss Westby’s jib, it played out even in court. She brought in all district shop steward to come in the court and flooded the court when she came to testify against us for what we did for her, but what we thought that did and just took the news back to the different district of hos things were working out in court nuh?
Chief Executive Officer of BWS, Alvan Haynes, was even worse off, as according to the judge (pages 34-35), as mediation would have proved a better course of action than appearing in court and being “pummelled into submission” on cross-examination and forced to admit he lied about his reasons for writing the infamous memorandum to staff concerning the letters. Novelo and Gillett were not forgiving either.
Worker 1: He issued out a memo stating exactly why he terminated us, it ended up in court, and the firrst judge mentioned to them go to mediation. The second judge tell them the second thing that the memo is damning. The memo is actually what solidify the case because he was putting what they did to us in writing in black and white.
Worker 2: What struck me was that a man of this calibre, a man of this high level of intellect did not make a better judgement. They had the time, they had the opportunity. We were open to sit down. We were open to discussion, and they literally threw that through the window so it was very surprising to me that a man with that intellect heading one of our biggest utility companies in this country would make a decision like that and then says to John Public, what else bad decisions is this man making at that place?
Even with the announcement relayed by August this evening, there is very much bitterness remaining between the company and the fired workers. Novelo and Gillett say that even though they have won this battle, they lost much more.
Worker 1: As far as we’re concerned, we won. We know that the ball is in their court to do as they please with it. We know that they would want to continue to drag this on and whatever and we were proven from the start, that this is what we signed up to do from the first day we filed this suit, so the whole sand and dance with this appeal and all this, we’re ready. We’re ready because we know from the start we didn’t do what they accused us of. They basically just threw us out there. At the end of the day, we’re free. Our names have been vindicated.
Worker 2: 6 people’s lives have been ravelled. Our course that we were planning to go on has been changed by some people who obviously didn’t have any heart. They have one of us, his wife died because she couldn’t afford the top of the line medication that was offered by the insurance, those things are wrong. The other one Miss Barnett had to take her son out extracurricular activities, karate, football, what have you. Those things are wrong. We suffer, banks are calling each and every one of us on a daily basis, when are you going to pay? When are you going to pay? Mr. McKoy, because I don’t know for what reason that BWS did this to him, he can’t get a job from the day we departed that place, going on 3 years now.
Senior Counsel Said Musa and Tricia Pitts-Anderson represented the workers while Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams represented BWS.