LUCELEC fires senior staff after 21 years of service. The word is the “benevolent corporation” fires a senior member of staff for being unavailable to work just before the Sabbath. A practicing Seventh-day Adventist, LUCELEC has somehow now made a case against this senior member of staff for being unavailable to work on the Sabbath, as sufficient grounds for dismissal. Since, to be available “at any time if needed”, was what mattered. Without such time as is reasonable in the circumstances, being considered.
It was no secret that the senior member of staff is a practicing Seventh-day Adventist. And over the many years of service to LUCELEC has been accorded the opportunity, despite the exigencies of work, to observe the Sabbath, until now. This observance would prove to be the very undoing of the senior worker. It was simply report to work, or “additional disciplinary action would be taken up to and including the possibility of employment termination.”
What had now made it almost instructive that the senior member of staff had to report to work on a day long since recognised as a day of worship? It can be seen by the correspondence exchanged between both sides that the senior worker would not have been accorded proper presentation, despite summarily being considered for termination with the provisions of her contract coming to the fore. “Normal hours of work shall be 8am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday, but (you) will be expected to be available at any time if needed, part of the contractual terms (Hours of Work)”, reads.
It was a contractual issue, LUCELEC’s general counsel insisted, and for the senior member of staff to be unavailable to work on the Sabbath, in accordance with the terms of her contract of employment, presented a serious breach. It was not that there weren’t others willing to stand in as the senior worker formed part of a project team. However, for the general counsel it was an abuse of position, bordering on “mala fides”. What had so vexed this senior employee’s employer that she simply had to go?
To exchange hours of work is a practice taking place with workers all the time. This finds its place at almost all levels of the company, and for various reasons, like fulfilling a doctor’s appointments, to observing religious worship and for going on boat rides, etc. So, from accommodating the senior worker to citing mala fides (in bad faith, with intent to cheat or deceive) was pretty much strong words coming from an employer which prides it-self as an equal opportunity employer.
When possible, the senior member’s request to exchange hours of work has been facilitated. It was not that the exchange of the hours of work at this time could not have been met. Besides, it was a call to a higher order and not pleasure. However, LUCELEC’s grudging bosses were not having any of it. Why grudging you would ask? The question further looms, why after several years of observing the faith that a senior worker’s observance of the Sabbath was now an issue?
Well, not only was the fired worker a senior member of staff, but for eight years served in a supervisory capacity. On 15 May, 2012 the senior worker would inform the company by letter of being “unavailable to work on May 18 and June 15, 2012, but would be available to work the early evenings of May 19 and June 16, 2012”. While it would not be uncommon for a sensor member of staff to be excused from a particular activity of work, however, against the backdrop of an earlier union poll the dynamics at work had already changed.
On March 22, 2012, supervisors, engineers, and section heads of LUCELEC overwhelmingly voted 86% in favour for union representation, in the NWU. Would we now see LUCELEC being more than willing, but ready to punish its middle managerial staff in the exercise of their constitutional rights to associate freely with an organisation of their choice as it would in the exercise of their religious belief? Did the supreme law of the land, the Constitution, afford its citizens as workers any real protection?
An accounts supervisor and a key member of the Customer Information System (CIS) project team. The senior supervisory worker would provide the first testing ground since the poll for union recognition. While assigned to the EC$10M project, LUCELEC couldn’t have that member of staff unavailable for the day of May 18 and June 15, 2012, for a period lasting not more than an hour. Now, it was more than ready to ensure that the same worker would be made permanently unavailable.
While LUCELEC would find the senior worker’s unavailability as an “inflexible position” and “the full awareness of project risk, unacceptable” LUCELEC did not find its action unacceptable in firing the senior supervisory worker while on medical sick leave or without allowing her proper presentation. It was unprecedented also that LUCELEC would find the requirement “at any time” could not be understood within the context of reasonableness, (and which should be) “outwardly rejected… as an essential service does not in and of itself lend itself to such a luxury”, wrote its general counsel.
It is reasonable to expect by the general counsel’s simple admission that LUCELEC is acting above the Constitution of Saint Lucia unreasonable, when Section 9 (1) of the Constitution guarantees citizens of Saint Lucia against discrimination based on their Religion or Conscience, by expressly stating “except with his own consent, a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience, including freedom of thought and religion,… and both in public and private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teachings, practice and observance”.
In another unprecedented move a bailiff was used to serve the letter of dismissal to the senior supervisory staff after heading home, from falling sick on the job. While enclosed was a letter of indemnity release from any future action which was supposedly written by the senior worker to the managing director of LUCELEC, though unsigned, absolving LUCELEC from any future legal action. By the evening of June 27, 2012, the day was the darkest before the Sabbath. With LUCELEC holding on to its own inflexible position thinking that only it was reasonable with the supervisory staff being unreasonable, as it is “expected that written commitments will be honoured” saved what’s enshrined in the Constitution of Saint Lucia.
“We will not recant our opinion of your client’s attitude towards contractual obligations,” in a response letter to the senior worker’s legal representative, wrote LUCELEC’s general counsel. But if LUCELEC wouldn’t recant its opinion of the senior worker’s attitude for contractual reasons, it certainly wouldn’t for the senior worker’s attitude for legal or union representation, at least, one would expect of LUCELEC to recant for an individual encouraged by a higher calling to serve God, reasonable.
The Looshan Forum