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Jul 24, 2020

Supreme Court Denies Application for Injunction against P.B.L.

Godfrey Smith

The Supreme Court has handed down a major decision in respect of the situation at the Port of Belize. It has denied the injunction brought by the Attorney General’s Office to stay the termination of the thirty-six employees of P.B.L.  That’s the decision that Justice Sonya Young handed down this morning. Justice Young also rejected the application for the interim reinstatement of the workers for twenty-eight days.  On Wednesday, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Labour Commissioner, filed the application for the injunction. Following the decision handed down this morning, Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, the attorney for Port of Belize Limited told reporters that decisions were based on the lateness of the submission by the Labour Commissioner, including that the terminations had already taken place and that it wasn’t within the court’s jurisdiction to reinstate the employees. Here’s how he explains what transpired in court today.


Godfrey Smith, Attorney for P.B.L.

“The judge ruled that she would not grant an interim injunction, neither would she reinstate the employees as requested by the Labour Commissioner. Before giving, very briefly, the reasons why she reached that decision I wish to point out that her judgment made it pellucidly clear that it was the Labour Commissioner who had waited until the last minute to rush to court to seek to stop the terminations after having sufficient notice of it. I say that simply because there has been a lot of back and forth as to whether the Port tried to rush and act in an underhanded way and so on. So, I think the judgment of the Supreme Court makes it absolutely clear that it was the Labour Commissioner and the Attorney General who waited to the last minute to rush to court. The reason why the injunction was not granted was because in the judgment of the Supreme Court the applicants had waited too long and the terminations had already occurred. They had sufficient time to act and the Court wouldn’t make an order that it can’t enforce. How can you give an order to stop something that has already happened? On the order for reinstatement, for two reasons the judge said she couldn’t grant that order. The first reason she said was that the Court had no jurisdiction to do so. Basically, when you go to Court to ask for a reinstatement – remember this is what is called an interim application, this isn’t the substantive matter – you are saying stop this thing until we can look into it. But to reinstate somebody is effectively to give the final decision – you can’t do that at this stage. Importantly, the judge also pointed out that it wasn’t the place of the Labour Commissioner to ask for reinstatement of the employees. If employees have been wrongfully terminated, then they need to come and say we wish to be reinstated. How it is that the Labour Commissioner who is not a party to the contract between P.B.L and the workers, they are not involved, you can’t come and ask for that. So, that was rather odd. So, for those reasons the Court said that it had to dismiss the application in its entirety and ordered costs against the applicants namely, the Labour Commissioner and the Attorney General. On a final note, I would like to say that there are ways of settling a dispute. If you say that you are wrongfully terminated or your salary is wrongfully deducted, Belize has sophisticated Labour Laws; not only one, several pieces. They are very broad. They are very comprehensive. They lay out grievance mechanisms. They lay out recourse to the Labour Commissioner and recourse to labour tribunals. And if you are not happy with that, you come to the court. So, everything will be settled in due course the way the law envisioned it to be.”

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