By Makeida Antonio
Two Antiguans who have spent many years in the fields of human resources and industrial relations have commented on a recent ruling in the Industrial Court which favoured a high profile individual said to have suffered from political victimisation in the workplace.
On December 8, the court awarded around a quarter of a million dollars in damages to former Board of Education employee D Gisele Isaac. The ruling came after the board assumed liability after failing to produce any defence against Isaac’s claim of constructive dismissal in 2020 following almost a decade of legal battles.
In 2014, Isaac was handed a suspension letter after former Minister of Education Michael Browne assumed office following the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party’s victory in the general elections that year. There was allegedly no explanation for this suspension, and when the period indicated came to an end, Isaac was met by a padlock on her office door.
The move was said by many to be politically motivated, and came amid allegations of corruption against Isaac which have since been dismissed during several proceedings in courts as high as London’s Privy Council.
Joan Underwood, an internationally certified senior professional in human resources, argued that proper procedure was not followed since the inception of the legal battle.
“As an HR professional, I was aghast at how clumsily the matter was handled because they erred from the get-go.
“For example, in placing someone on suspension and indicating that there would be an investigation and making absolutely no contact with the individual during the course of said investigation, that flies in the face of the principle of natural justice,” Underwood said on yesterday’s Big Issues programme.
Underwood, who is currently the Managing Director and Principal Consultant of Underwood Talent Development Services in Barbados and a close friend of Isaac, said it was obvious that the Labour Code was disregarded by the Board of Education.
“In terms of simply complying with the labour laws of Antigua and Barbuda, there are accepted rules and laws in terms of the duration of suspension, the maximum suspension, what needs to happen during that.
“It was obvious once she was locked out of the office after the suspension period had elapsed that it was constructive dismissal and then it continued to go downhill from there,” she commented.
Anderson Carty, a consultant specialising in business management, industrial relations and human resources with almost 30 years of experience, agreed with Underwood’s sentiments.
He believes that having a divisive political system which seeks to tear down an individual’s wealth and reputation is the root cause behind the saga.
“Sadly to say, we have inherited this political system from our colonial masters which was largely designed I think to keep citizens subjugated to the system in order to control them and so while the faces change from white to black, the system remains in place and is still used by our political actors to fulfil their own purposes and objectives,” he shared on yesterday’s Big Issues programme.
Carty, who claims that he and others are also being subjected to political victimisation, offered a remedy.
“We cannot continue to go the route of victimisation at a personal cost to the individual – and the cost for the nation is simply astronomical.
“We have to find that process which lends itself to dialogue with a view to make a determination whether it is necessary for a public officer or that non-established employee to move from the area where they are, or we can sit down and have a discussion where they are regarding a mutual separation because we understand that we need some balance,” he added.