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Dec 11, 2014

Unlawful Termination Case Against BWS Wraps Up In Supreme Court

Justice Michelle Arana is expected to make her decision on the case 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, Tricia Pitts-Anderson for the other claimants, and Rodwell Williams and Julie-Ann Ellis-Bradley for BWS in January. Their trial against their former employer, Belize Water Services Limited, continued today after a six-month break before Justice Michelle Arana. In testimony this morning BWS Workers’ Union Lorelei Westby said she had to remove herself from a panel investigating the distribution of salacious letters among workers despite vowing to get to the bottom of the matter because of a conflict of interest. Furthermore, Westby stepped down as union president and delegated handling of the investigation to a subordinate while still in the loop with management. She says she was not aware of the redundancy process and the union executive did not order action taken, following on from management’s decision not to move against the workers. She distinguished the treatment of these employees from two redundant security guards at the water treatment plant in Dangriga.

 

Michael Novelo, Former BWS Employee

Michael Novelo

“It has exposed the truth in the matter; it has exposed the case of lying in bed with management. I hope the rest of employees are watching keenly at this matter and would take heed to what is happening. That place has some issues and it needs to be rectified.”

 

Reporter

“Can you speak to the notable absence of any other union representation. Have you all had any discussions with N.T.U.C.B. or any of the unions for that matter?”

 

Former BWS Employee

“No, still waiting on some kind of reaction, some kind of letter, some advice; whatever, anything. It’s like we are crying in the forest and we are there all alone. We came this far alone, we started alone and we are okay. It just exposes what people use the union’s for…getting the leadership. What happens in our case when the president goes and sides with management and just basically sacrifices its members, including myself who was the vice-president at the time—Miss Barnett was the secretary. It just speaks volume to what they really stand for and why they get in those positions.”

 

Reporter

“This whole thing is essentially as a result of office gossip; bascially that’s what both attorneys for the claimants have been trying to establish and have been trying to prove in court. When it comes to gossip and all that type of behaviour in the workplace, is there anything that you guys would do differently as opposed to what you all did?”

 

Former BWS Employee

“No because we didn’t do anything. So there is nothing…based on appraisal we weren’t doing anything obviously because we got stellar appraisals every year. So we wouldn’t have done anything differently…maybe scored higher and that’s it.”

 

Meanwhile, Haynes said the letters sapped morale and led to bitter infighting and threats against all levels of staff and Board members which were reported to Police. Despite launching an investigation that interviewed more than fifty employees the company could not get to the bottom of what happened. Concurrently, according to Haynes, the company was deciding to implement redundancy as a cost-cutting measure after its rates were cut seven point two percent by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and department heads recommended the claimants for redundancy despite fair to good marks in their most recent performance appraisal in March of 2012. Haynes’ memo of February seventh, 2012, was in his words an attempt to flesh out further information about the letters but he denied that it had anything to do with the claimants. Haydon Brown, human resources officer for BWS, also testified and proceedings wrapped up late this evening. The employees are suing for their outstanding benefits and packages.

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