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Privy Council confirms right of appeal from Industrial Court

IN A decision handed down on Monday, the London-based Privy Council has addressed the issue of appeals from the Industrial Court, confirming that there was a right of appeal.

Admitting that while the Industrial Relations Act did not expressly provide for any further appeals to the Privy Council, the law lords held that the Constitution of TT provided for appeals from decisions of the Court of Appeal to the final appellate court.

“The Board has no doubt that proceedings before the Industrial Court are civil proceedings within the meaning of section 82(1) (a) and that a final decision of the Court of Appeal on an appeal from a decision of the Industrial Court is a final decision in civil proceedings,” the Law Lords held as it dismissed an appeal filed by the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO).

“The Board therefore concludes that the CPO has properly exercised the right of appeal conferred by section 109(1)(a) of the Republican Constitution and that the Board has jurisdiction to hear the appeal.”

The CPO appealed a decision of the local appellate court to uphold a November 2012 decision of the Industrial Court which that there was an excessive delay in the completion of a grievance procedure for a Port of Port of Spain driver who was fired in 1999 after he was found guilty of stealing 72 litres of gasoline, then worth $172.

The worker was first suspended without pay on May 1999, and was eventually acquitted in the magistrates’ court in January 2002, but a disciplinary hearing was held two months later and continued some five years later.

On April 4, 2008, the CPO told the worker he was found guilty and fired him. Two trade disputes were referred to the Industrial Court. In the first, it was argued that the worker was not told of the decision of the disciplinary proceedings within ten days of completion of the hearing in accordance with the articles of the collective agreement.

The Industrial Court in 2012 ruled in favour of the Amalgamated Workers’ Union which represented the worker.

It also ordered that the worker be immediately reinstated to his position without loss of seniority, emoluments and other benefits.

The second dispute was dismissed since the court made orders in the first dispute and the CPO appealed to the Court of Appeal against the Industrial Court’s order, arguing that it exceeded its jurisdiction in making the orders it did. It also complained that the court did not take into consideration his earnings he made elsewhere over the period of his suspension.

“He did not resign voluntarily, nor did he abandon his position. He took other work because he had no choice; he had been suspended without pay,” the Privy Council rules, also dismissing the CPO’s argument on the worker’s reinstatement.

“The Board is satisfied that there has been no substantial miscarriage of justice,” it added.

The CPO was represented by Peter Knox and Olivia Wybraniec while Anand Beharrylal, QC, Alvin Pariagsingh, Lemuel Murphy, and Ganesh Saroop represented the union.

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