By Jamaica Gleaner,
The Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) could face a massive compensation bill of more than $100 million if the panel of adjudicators at the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) now hearing a case between the bank and a former employee rules in favour of the worker over the termination of his contract.
The employee, who served as head of the Strategic Planning and Project Management Centre at the bank from January 3 to May 28, 2018, asked not to be named in the article for career reasons. His contract was terminated five months into a five-year agreement.
Lambert Brown, president of the University and Allied Workers Union (UAWU), and attorneys representing the former central bank’s strategy expert want the five-year contract of their client to be paid after it ended prematurely without “cause”. Brown said that there was no probationary clause in the contract.
According to Brown, his client had no option but to submit a claim “because somebody at the bank thought that they had the power to terminate at will and not realising that the Labour Relations Industrial Disputes Act of 1973 changed that and now gives the power to an Industrial Disputes Tribunal to review dismissals and to determine if those dismissals were justified or not”.
The Gleaner sought comment from the head of industrial relations and employee engagement at the bank, Dane Lazarus, who said he would ask the bank’s communications arm to address the issue. However, up to news time, no response was forthcoming.
However, The Gleaner obtained a copy of the bank’s brief that was submitted to the IDT. It indicated that at the time of the engagement of the aggrieved employee, the Strategic and Project Management Centre was in its infancy and its structure was a temporary one as it was not part of the bank’s permanent organisational structure.
The bank states that there were no permanent members of staff engaged in the centre at the time, and apart from the head of strategy, who was engaged on a fixed-term contract, there was only one other person in the unit. The BOJ said that the other person – a special projects manager – was already employed to the bank and was placed temporarily in the centre.
In a Gleaner interview, Brown contended that the central bank did not reach out to the former employee in order to arrive at a settlement after terminating his contract.
Brown argued that the bank’s 2018 annual report indicated that the Strategic Planning and Project Management Centre was expected to be the leading department in driving change at the central bank.
The BOJ’s then head of strategy was given the option to resign or be terminated under a one-month notice clause in the contract, according to Brown.
The former head of strategy told The Gleaner that he told his supervisor, a deputy governor, that he would not be walking away from the job because he had done nothing wrong, and no evidence had been presented to show that he was not performing or underperforming in his duties.
However, the bank went ahead and revoked the contract.
In its brief, the central bank acknowledged that the former head of strategy was not dismissed for cause, and there were no allegations of misconduct against him that would have required a disciplinary hearing to be held by the bank.
Brown took issue with the bank’s decision to terminate the head of strategy without cause, noting that the institution’s staff manual clearly indicated that the bank reserved the right to dismiss an employee for just cause.
The UAWU president chided the bank for allegedly breaching a provision in its own manual that formed part of his client’s contract.
The central bank’s brief before the IDT, however, pointed out that the worker’s contract of employment provided that prior to the expiry date, either party may terminate the contract by giving one month’s notice in writing.
In addition, the bank said that some time after it employed the head of strategy, an assessment of the scope and needs of the centre was done and a decision was taken to restructure it.
It said that the changes introduced in the centre resulted in the position of head of strategy being no longer required. The bank said that the former strategy expert did not meet the requirements for a position in the newly restructured Strategic Planning and Project Management Centre.
The bank said that the worker did not qualify for redundancy payments.
Prior to taking up his job at the central bank, the then BOJ head of strategic planning and project management held a strategic position at a leading food manufacturer and distributor in the Caribbean headquartered in Jamaica.
He also worked as a management consultant at PwC and KPMG, New York.
The IDT hearings started in June this year, and to date, there have been 12 sittings. The final submissions by the disputing parties are to be made on December 12 before a panel of the IDT.
The central bank is represented by attorneys-at-law Patrick Foster, QC, and Ayana Thomas.