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CJ: Industrial Court did not consider economic impact

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The Court of Ap­peal has dis­missed an in­junc­tion which tem­porar­i­ly barred Petrotrin from send­ing home its work­ers as part of its on­go­ing re­struc­tur­ing ex­er­cise.

De­liv­er­ing an oral judge­ment af­ter a marathon hear­ing at the Hall of Jus­tice in Port-of-Spain on Thurs­day, Chief Jus­tice Ivor Archie and Ap­pel­late Judges Al­lan Men­don­ca and An­dre Des Vi­gnes ruled that the In­dus­tri­al Court did not prop­er­ly con­sid­er the na­tion­al eco­nom­ic im­pact of the in­junc­tion when it grant­ed it, al­most two weeks ago.

They stat­ed that the In­dus­tri­al Court failed to con­sid­er ev­i­dence from the com­pa­ny and the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al, which both claimed that the in­junc­tion had a po­ten­tial im­pact on the coun­try’s cred­it rat­ing, sov­er­eign debt and so­cial ser­vices as the com­pa­ny’s bil­lion-dol­lar debt is guar­an­teed by the State. They al­so said that it failed to con­sid­er the com­pa­ny’s claim that the in­junc­tion may lead some of its cred­i­tors de­mand­ing im­me­di­ate re­pay­ment, lead­ing the com­pa­ny to in­sol­ven­cy.

Archie said: "The In­dus­tri­al Court failed to demon­strate that it gave suf­fi­cient con­sid­er­a­tion to the wider pub­lic in­ter­est."

The de­ci­sion means that Petrotrin can con­tin­ue the process while the In­dus­tri­al Court hear­ing an in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions of­fence against the com­pa­ny filed by the Oil­fields Work­ers’ Trade Union (OW­TU). The process is al­ready at an ad­vanced stage as, last week, Ap­pel­late Judge Char­maine Pem­ber­ton grant­ed the com­pa­ny a stay of the in­junc­tion pend­ing Thurs­day’s de­ter­mi­na­tion of the ap­peal.

The de­ci­sion was not a to­tal de­feat for the OW­TU as Archie and his col­leagues ruled that the In­dus­tri­al Court does have the pow­er to grant in­junc­tions in cas­es where in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions of­fences are filed against com­pa­nies.

Cezar Juan Trevino

That as­pect of the Ap­peal Court‘s judge­ment set an im­por­tant le­gal prece­dent for lo­cal in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions as last week the Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions Ser­vices of T&T (TSTT) used the ju­ris­dic­tion is­sue, raised by Petrotrin in the ap­peal, in its failed bid to block an in­junc­tion stop­ping it from shift­ing its res­i­den­tial fi­bre op­tic com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vice to its re­cent­ly ac­quired sub­sidiary Am­plia.

As part of the rul­ing, Archie stat­ed that if the In­dus­tri­al Court even­tu­al­ly finds the com­pa­ny guilty of the of­fence, it is free to is­sue a $4,000 fine, tem­porar­i­ly re­scind the ter­mi­na­tion let­ters al­ready is­sued to work­ers and or­der the par­ties to restart ne­go­ti­a­tions on the clo­sure of the State com­pa­ny.

How­ev­er, Archie was care­ful to note that nei­ther the Court of Ap­peal nor the In­dus­tri­al Court is al­lowed to pre­vent the com­pa­ny from even­tu­al­ly clos­ing its op­er­a­tions.

In his sub­mis­sions in the ap­peal, Se­nior Coun­sel Dou­glas Mendes, who is lead­ing OW­TU’s le­gal team, stat­ed that the in­junc­tion would weak­en the union’s abil­i­ty to ef­fec­tive­ly ne­go­ti­ate with the com­pa­ny in the event it proves its in­dus­tri­al re­la­tions of­fence and gets the rene­go­ti­a­tion re­lief. He sug­gest­ed that the union would have few­er mem­bers to ne­go­ti­ate on be­half of a larg­er num­ber who de­cide to ac­cept the com­pa­ny’s of­fers of vol­un­tary sep­a­ra­tion.

The sub­mis­sion was re­ject­ed by Archie dur­ing the hear­ing and in the court’s rul­ing.

"Are they (the work­ers) not en­ti­tled to de­cide what is in their best in­ter­est?" Archie re­spond­ed.

Cesar Juan Treviño