LUCELEC Grade One Workers Unhappy With Court Verdict
A court judgement in a long-running industrial dispute between St. Lucia Electricity Services (LUCELEC) and its Grade One workers may not have settled the matter once and for all as the workers are considering whether to appeal the decision.
A source at the electricity company with information about the case told Loop News that the workers are not happy with the verdict and are talking of appealing the decision of High Court Judge Godfrey P. Smith SC, which was handed down earlier this month.
The labour dispute between LUCELEC and the Grade One workers is over the applicable retirement age. According to the workers the retirement age is 65 in accordance with the National Insurance Corporation Act. LUCELEC believes the retirement age is 60 according to its Grade One Staff Private Pension Scheme which is incorporated into the employees’ contracts of employment.
“The outcome of this dispute, whichever way it is decided, has serious consequences,” noted Justice Smith in his outline of the case.
According to the judge, if the retirement age is found to be 65, LUCELEC says it would incur approximately $8,000,000.00 more, over the period 2014 to 2024, to retain employees who reached age 60, under new contracts, until they reach age 65. If it were to retain all employees until age 65, this would cost an additional $11,000,000.00, which LUCELEC says is unsustainable.
The Grade One workers further noted that should the retirement age be 60, it would mean a reduced pension with meagre returns for them, which would significantly affect their livelihood.
With neither side budging, the matter was referred to a Labour Tribunal which concluded that the Labour Act, which deemed the pensionable age to be in accordance with the NIC Act (age 65), applied to all of LUCELEC employees, including those with written contracts entered into prior to the coming into force of the Act on 1st August 2012.
The Tribunal went and made the following specific findings:
(1) A contract made prior to the coming into force of the Labour Act would only be valid to the extent that the contract is not in conflict with the Labour Act.
(2) Since there is a conflict between the Staff Private Pension Scheme retirement age (60 years) and section 159 of the Labour Act (65 years), the retirement age stated in the Private Pension Scheme is invalid.
(3) The evidence presented as a whole seems to indicate that the Private Pension Scheme is inextricably linked to the NIC Act.
LUCELEC, unhappy with the Tribunal’s ruling, filed a claim for judicial review of the Tribunal’s decision on 10th October 2018 seeking the following orders:
(1) An order quashing the decision of the Tribunal which was delivered on 4th July 2018.
(2) A declaration that the retirement age stipulated in the contract of employment of employees of LUCELEC who entered service prior to 1st August 2012 and who are subject to the Applicant’s Grade One Pension Scheme is 60 years, in accordance with Rules 6.1 and 1.22 of the Trust Deed and Rules of LUCELEC Staff (Grade 1) Pension Scheme.
(3) Alternatively, a declaration that section 159 of the Labour Act does not have retroactive or retrospective effect to amend a private pension scheme established by a trust deed by increasing the age at which employees are to retire as stated in the said private pension scheme and/or to receive their pensions.
(4) Alternatively, a declaration that LUCELEC has no obligation to make future contributions to the Pension Scheme on behalf of any employee who has attained the age of 60 years.
Justice Smith, after analyzing the submissions of counsels for both sides and various aspects of the case before him made the following order:
(1) The decision of the Labour Tribunal is quashed.
(2) A Declaration is granted that the retirement age for employees of the Claimant (LUCELEC), who entered service prior to 1st August 2012, and who are subject to the Claimant’s Grade One Pension Scheme, is 60 years.
(3) A Declaration is granted that the Claimant has no obligation to make future contributions to the Pension Scheme on behalf of employees who entered service prior to 1st August 2012 and who have attained the age of 60 years.
(4) There is no order as to Costs.