December 6, 2013
Workers dismissed for Union activity…Ouch!

Fri Dec 06, 2013

Reported by Christina Wallace-Whitfield

Eugene Dupuch Law School

During June 2001 several farm workers (the “employees”) were all fired from Mayan King Ltd (“Mayan”), the owner of citrus and banana farms. One of the issues for the Caribbean Court of Justice to decide was, in a word, “Why”. Were they fired due to their involvement in trade union activity, as suggested by the former employees, or was it due to legitimate cost-cutting exercises, as suggested by Mayan?{{more}}

In May, 2001, the employees began actively promoting unionization in their workplace. They highlighted unfair practices, held public meetings, encouraged employees to join the union and personally signed them up. Their promotion of the union was not done during working hours and their meetings were not held on Mayan’s property. By June, 2001, they were all dismissed from Mayan.
They were all long standing employees, ranging from six to sixteen years with Mayan. They took legal action challenging their dismissal. They claimed that the only logical explanation for their dismissal was their involvement with the union. They stated that their dismissals violated the Trade Union and Employers Act 2000 (Belize) which was designed to protect employees from being discriminated against by their employers for involvement in trade union activities. If an employee could show that his/her dismissal was based on such involvement, the courts could direct that the employer do what is right or direct that the employee be rehired, if possible.

The CCJ ruled in favour of the employees. They rejected Mayan’s excuse that the dismissals were part of a cost-cutting laying-off exercise. The Court noted that the dismissed workers were “chief activists for the union” at Mayan’s farms; they were dismissed a few days after the company had received a letter indicating that 85 per cent of the workforce had joined the union and no evidence was presented to show why they and not more recently hired employees were being dismissed. The CCJ stated that the employees “were encouraged to embark on their Union activities by their genuine belief that the very [law] that was violated by the company would protect them.” Mayan was accordingly ordered by the court to pay compensation to each of the former employees.

This summary is intended to assist the Caribbean public in learning more about the work of the CCJ. It is not a formal document of the Court. The judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document and may be found at http://www.caribbeancourtofjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/2012-CCJ-3-AJ.pdf