Case against employer dismissed when Ministry of Labour’s lawyer failed to turn up in time

Dear Editor,

A serious miscarriage of justice was perpetrated on Ms Dawn Taylor of Lot 157 One Mile Wismar, Linden, when a matter that should have been prosecuted by the Ministry of Labour before Magistrate Gordon Gilhuys at the Wismar Magistrate Court on Tuesday, September 25th, 2007 was dismissed by the Magistrate because the Ministry’s lawyer was not present in court when the matter was called at approximately 9.45am. I was present in court on September 25, 2007, the day of the hearing.

The manner of the dismissal of the case by the Magistrate is cause for concern and has left a number of people in Linden angry. On the day that the case was dismissed the Magistrate went on the bench at approximately 9.35 a.m. and the first case he heard involved the police who were not present. That matter was put down for later that day. The next case called was the Ministry’s case against CAB’s Hardware and General Store and after it became clear that the ministry was unrepresented, the case was deemed dismissed. No consideration was given to the fact that Counsel for the Ministry might have been delayed. It was just dismissed. In fairness to the Ministry’s attorney, Mr Persaud, who arrived shortly after, he pleaded with the Magistrate to recall the matter but his pleas fell on deaf ears.

This matter had its genesis in the dismissal of Ms Taylor by the company effective August 7, 2006. Ms Taylor complained to the Ministry of Labour following which the Ministry charged CAB’s Hardware with the following offences:-

Failing to give Ms Taylor notice of termination, or

To pay a sum in lieu of notice; and

Failure to pay severance.

Ms Taylor was absent from Guyana between November 2006 and April 2007 but she returned when she was notified that the Ministry wanted to contact her on the case. Prior to the hearing on September 25 the matter was called before Magistrate Gordon Gilhuys on at least five occasions. On all of those occasions Counsel for the Ministry of Labour failed to make an appearance. On the occasion of the hearing on September 11, 2007, Magistrate Gilhuys set September 25, 2007 as the date for trial and made it very clear that he would be proceeding with it on that date. While it is true that the magistrate was within his rights to act as he did it is also true that the manner of the dismissal pointed to an uncompromising stand by him. The feeling among residents is one of disappointment that the opportunity to rule against the abuses complained of by Ms Taylor was lost. While people feel that the Magistrate did well to keep the matter on the list for such a long time, they wonder why it could not have been put down for later that day, at such an early stage of the sitting. There is also a strong feeling by citizens in Linden against the negligence of the Ministry which should have seen to it that its cases in defence of workers and of labour laws were promptly prosecuted.

I am advised by Ms Taylor that fearing her case would have been deemed by the Magistrate to be abandoned on the day of the hearing – September 25, 2007 – if the Ministry’s legal representative failed to make an appearance, she appealed to the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) for assistance. I am further advised that WPA Executive Member, Desmond Trotman, made representation to Mr. Mohamed Akeel, the Ministry’s Chief Labour Officer on Ms Taylor’s behalf.

In my opinion Ms Taylor’s employers should have been afforded the opportunity to prove in court that they acted under the law, and be exposed and punished if they did not.

The government must not allow its laws to be flouted, as appears from this complaint. If the Ministry does not bring the case back to court it must pay Ms Taylor what is due to her under the statutes.

The rule of law must also protect workers, and unions should not stand idly by in the circumstances of Ms Taylor’s complaints. Ms Taylor’s case has the potential for righting a number of wrongs that employees are faced with in Guyana. If her case is proven it will certainly encourage other employees of CAB’s Hardware who feel that they have been similarly treated by the company to seek redress in the court.

Yours faithfully,

Stanley Humphrey

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