Cable and Wireless to appeal ex-workers’ victory in unfair dismissal case

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An appeal has been filed by Cable and Wireless (Antigua and Barbuda) Limited against the decision of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal which had upheld the findings of the Industrial Court that the company had unfairly dismissed 13 workers almost four years ago.

The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) was served with the appeal to the Privy Council just last week, which comes just over three months after the appellate court handed down its decision.

The specific details regarding the grounds of the appeal were not disclosed to OBSERVER media, but sources confirmed the matter was filed on August 27 and served on the union on August 28.

Back in May, the appellate court found that the telecommunications company had unfairly dismissed the employees and ordered that they ought to pay them for doing so.

It was earlier reported that the ruling was handed down by Justices Gertel Thom, Mario Michel and Sydney Bennett who did not however award costs to either side – in other words, no party was ordered to pay what the other incurred in legal fees.

In the 23-page judgment, the judges agreed that the manner in which the workers were sent packing in December 2015, was not redundancy as Cable and Wireless argued.

Leading up to letting the workers go, Cable and Wireless UK was going through a transformation process, after acquiring 100 percent shares in Columbus International Inc. whose subsidiary, Kelcom International (Antigua and Barbuda) Ltd, provided communication services in the twin island.

Some time later, Cable and Wireless UK reorganised its business in Antigua and Barbuda which involved the closure of Cable and Wireless’ retail business. According to the judges’ records, the retail business was thereafter carried on by Kelcom.

On November 23, 2015, Cable and Wireless notified the 13 retail department workers that they would be made redundant effective within seven days and they sought to pay them severance.

However, on November 27, the ABWU sought and was granted an injunction restraining Cable and Wireless from dismissing the employees. This injunction was granted without the presence of the company which eventually had a say on December 15, 2015. Nonetheless, the injunction remained in place for some time.

Soon after getting the injunction, the ABWU filed a memorandum in the Industrial Court, seeking the reinstatement or reemployment and alternatively, compensation for unfair dismissal, while the company contended that the workers were made redundant.

Later, the Industrial Court ruled “in the circumstances, Cable and Wireless failed to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that it acted reasonably. Accordingly, the employees were unfairly dismissed and entitled to compensation and costs.”

Cable and Wireless mounted an appeal asking the court to determine “(i) whether an employer is required to prove that it acted reasonably within the meaning of section C58(2) of the Labour Code in dismissing an employee for redundancy; and (ii) if the employer was required to prove reasonableness, whether the Industrial Court erred in finding that the employer acted unreasonably in dismissing the employees.”

That appeal was lost, and it is that which the company is now taking to the privy council.

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