By Aaron Humes
Supreme Court Justice, Michelle Arana is to decide on the claim of Mark Menzies, Don Gillett, Michael Novelo, Journett McKoy, Charlette Barnett and Colin Morrison sometime next year after receiving written submissions from their attorneys, Senior Counsel, Said Musa for Menzies and Tricia Pitts-Anderson for the other claimants.
Senior Counsel Rodwell Williams and Julie-Ann Ellis-Bradley are representing Belize Water Services (BWS), the employer which fired the six persons in January, 2012.
After a six-month break the trial resumed with cross-examination of the former president of the Belize Water Services Workers Union, Lorelei Westby.
Westby said she had to remove herself from a panel investigating the circulation of “salacious letters” among workers despite vowing to get to the bottom of the matter, because of “a conflict of interest”.
Westby stepped down as union president and delegated the handling of the investigation to a subordinate.
Westby testified that she was not aware of the redundancy process and admitted that the union executive did not order any action to be taken after she learned of management’s decision to move against the workers.
She saw a difference in the treatment of these six employees, she said, and the treatment of two redundant security guards at the water treatment plant in Dangriga.
Alvan Haynes, CEO of Belize Water and Sewage Authority denied that he used the claim of redundancy as an excuse to terminate the employment of the six workers after he was unable to trace the origins of an internal scandal.
In 2012 a number of salacious letters secretly circulated spoke of sexual laisons involving people in the top management of BWS. Haynes said that these reports sapped morale and led to bitter in-fighting and threats against all levels of staff and Board members.
The company’s investigation involved interrogation of more than 50 employees, including Menzies and two or three of the others who were subsequently dismissed.
According to Haynes, the company was looking to cut costs after the Public Utilities Commission ordered BWS to reduce its water rates by seven percent.
Company department heads picked the six men for redundancy, despite fair to good marks in their most recent performance appraisal in March of 2012.
Haynes’ company-wide memo of February 7, 2012, was in his words, an attempt to flush out further information but he denied that it had any direct connection to the six men who were dismissed.
It was in fact, a warning to other employees to watch their behavior and to cooperate. It was a decision which he now regrets, CEO Haynes said. The decision was not in keeping with the core values of the company, he acknowledged.
The six who were sacked are asking for general damages related to unlawful termination and various assorted other damages for special circumstances.
BWS says it has already paid each redundant worker his full final payment, including in the case of Mark Menzies, a six figure sum which included severance pay for his 12 years of service to BWS and money related to his redundancy termination.
Menzies, for his part claims he was employed for 13 years prior to the introduction of the BWS pension scheme in 1993.