-Supreme Court to provide answer soon
Supreme Court justices are expected to provide an opinion to establish as to whether 500 employees of the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC), who were asked by the management to sign their voluntary redundancy, were not knowledgeable about the consequences of their decision in 2006, as claimed by the leadership.
The Supreme Court’s involvement resulted from a request by the employees’ legal team, headed by Cllr. Laveli Supuwood, for Judicial Review against the May 6, 2014, judgment of the National Labor Court.
In that judgment, the court said: “The voluntary acceptance of the voluntary redundancy package by the redundant employees over retirement while on notice stopped them from repudiating their own act.”
On April 17, 2006, the Board of Directors and the Management of the LPRC claimed to have notified the Ministry of Labor (MoL) about its decision to carry on voluntary redundancy.
The exercise was intended to reduce their workforce from 750 to 250, dropping 500 employees due to “economic constraints.”
However, in counter argument on Tuesday, January 15, Cllr. Supuwood, who represented the employees, claimed that though they signed for their redundancy, there was no involvement of the MoL to explain about the consequences of doing so.
Besides, Cllr. Supuwood said, there were others who signed the redundancy plan simply because they were compelled to do so as the management had planned to deny them benefits if they did not sign.
The 500 redundant employees received voluntary redundancy packages. However, Cllr. Supuwood contended that they should have been retired with just benefits and not to be redundant, something he has considered as “unfair labor practice.”
Again, Supuwood asked for the reinstatement of some of the redundant employees who had not reached the retirement age but received redundancy packages.
Supuwood also argued that “those employees that were denied the right to pension should be immediately pensioned with all of their just benefits in line with the labor law; and those security officers that did not sign the voluntary redundancy form and were declared redundant by the management should be immediately reinstated with all of their benefits or receive payment in keeping with the labor law.”
In a counter-argument, LPRC’s lawyer, Cllr. Jonathan Massaquoi, said it would be unfair for the justices to compel the management to reinstate or retire those employees who had benefited from the company’s redundancy package.
“They voluntarily signed releases, expressly discharging the management from any and all claims of whatsoever nature or kind, arising out of or related to the employment relationship and/or voluntary redundancy,” Cllr. Massaquoi argued.
Massaquoi also said the redundancy was part of the then management’s 150 days’ deliverables plan, to ensure an effective and efficient generation of more revenue for the government.
“The plan was to cut down on too much spending on salaries by the company,” Massaquoi argued.
According to Massaquoi, there was a memorandum entered into between the management and the employees that provided detailed information about the package each of them would have received and “subsequently requested employees opting for the voluntary redundancy to sign out a voluntary redundancy form on or before April 28, 2006.”
Though the management’s memorandum was dated April 28, 2006, they wrote the Ministry of Labor (MOL) on May 1, 2006, informing them about the agreement, which request the ministry approved and said was consistent with the labor practices of the country.
Not being enough, the ministry designated its Director for Workman’s Compensation, Nathaniel Dickerson, to monitor the voluntary redundancy process and to attest to all releases issued in favor of the company.
These are legal issues the justices are expected to answer in their judgment.