Six former employees of Belize Water Services Limited (BWS) – Don Gillett, Mark Menzies, Colin Morrison, Charlette Barnett, Michael Novelo and Journett McKoy – are suing the utility company for wrongful termination. They had been dismissed, though the company officially claims that their positions were made redundant, after having worked there for between 3 and over 30 years. The fired employees based their claim on an internal memo which claimed they had been fired for breaching confidentiality and reports that the company has hired persons to fill their posts contrary to the initial claim of redundancy. They believe their firings were unfair and resulted in loss of salary and benefits. The workers also want compensation for an alleged breach of the collective bargaining agreement between the BWS Workers’ Union and the company. Two of the fired workers were the union’s vice-president and general secretary. On Tuesday the consolidated claims of Don Gillett and others and Mark Menzies were to be heard before the court. But Justice Courtney Abel has asked the two sides to work on a possible mediation of the dispute, and gave them until 1:00 p.m. Tuesday to work out the details. Attorney for Menzies, Kareem Musa, spoke to us about what his client wants.
“Well, damages at large, certainly along with, as I discussed the severance for the year pre 1993, because the pension plan did not come into place until 1993. So, we’re looking at severance before those years, we are looking at 12 additional years that he could have been employed with the company because he retires at 62 and we are also looking at damages at large and of course loss of implements that he would have been entitled to, for the next twelve years”.
According to Kareem Musa, his client, who was with the company for over 30 years, was not involved in the alleged wrongdoing alleged by CEO Alvan Haynes in an internal memo circulated after the firings.
Kareem Musa: “He was terminated after serving that company well, for so many years and there are actually performance appraisals that went in his favour each and every year. So, it’s a complete disrespect; it’s insulting, it’s offensive for him to now to have to go through this procedure, but it’s something that he’s willing to do. He was terminated clearly. When you look at all the evidence, he was terminated wrong because they tried to say that he was implicated in some gossip that was taking place at BWSL, and nothing of this sort took place. So, they had no justification in terminating him and that is the reason that we are suing today”.
Kareem Musa says they will try their best to reach a settlement but he believes his client is deserving of all he is entitled to.
Kareem Musa: “Yes, we’ve been negotiating. I wouldn’t say that has been very fruitful attempt so far. So, this might well end up in a trial; I don’t see where because the liability is clearly there against the company; they were wrong in terminating him. I think the real issue that needs to be determined is the quantum that my client could be entitled to, and I don’t want to prejudice the case in any way at this stage. I won’t be discussing on the amount that we’ve been asking for or what they responded with at this stage”.
Reporter: “Sir, can you tell us the proceedings look like…where they are from Justice Abel?”
Kareem Musa: “Well, we just went into chamber this morning and as the judge mentioned on te stand, there are a number of difficult that the court at this time, one being is that the other counsel is involved in a Court of Appeal. So, it’s a very short adjournment. We hope to discuss the matter further with the counsel for the defendants and come back here tomorrow, hopefully with some good answers for the clients”.
Senior Counsel Antoinette Moore represents the remaining five claimants; a seventh casualty is not participating in the suit. Julie-Ann Ellis-Bradley of Barrow and Williams represents BWS. The case resumes at 2:00 p.m. Wednesday.