Mon | Oct 22, 2018

Orville Taylor | Be independent; Fire and defend it

Published:Sunday | August 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Dr Andrew Wheatley being sworn in by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen at the swearing-in ceremony of new Cabinet ministers and ministers of state at King’s House on March 7, 2016.
Trevor Forrest, former chairman of Spectrum Management Authority who resigned in the wake of revelations he had improperly intervened in the recruitment process at the entity.
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Dismissal of a worker is a deliberate action taken by the employer. People do not fire themselves no matter how bad their behaviour is. Even if a worker walks off his job, he does not fire himself. So let's cut the nonsense about whether former energy Minister Dr Andrew Wheatley was asked or told to resign or he was booted by the prime minister.

Unless one closes one's eyes and dreams, there is no such thing as an employer telling or forcing a worker to resign. In industrial relations law, the critical element in any resignation is that it is voluntary and an initiative taken independently by the worker. This means that it is freely done and the worker has the alternative choice of remaining on the job. If the worker cannot change his mind, he has been dismissed.

Thus, if one is working in a bank and large amounts of money go missing, the responsible employee is in deep trouble. Either he is a thief or is seriously derelict. Therefore, he can be dismissed without notice for such egregious breaches. Having been found with reasonable cause for his dismissal to be justifiable or fair, he gives his employer the right to pull the trigger. If the employer hands him the weapon and says, "Shoot yourself!" there is the implicit threat that I will if you won't. A resignation in a situation where a dismissal would have been reasonable is nothing more than a face-saving device.

It protects the reputation of the embattled worker, who will not have the stigma of dismissal, and in some industries, it protects the employer because it does not air all its dirty underwear. However, a boss who is not bold enough to not watch face, raises questions about his own judgment.

Dismissing a person is a big deal, and it is in particular a big deal in Jamaica and many CARICOM nations, which have industrial courts or Industrial Disputes' Tribunal (IDT). Despite the repugnant position advanced by the Jamaica Bar Association (JAMBAR) about three weeks ago that the Jamaican IDT should lower its standards in determining the justifiability of a dismissal, my position is that a person's job is property, especially if he has invested in it long term. Therefore, for it to be removed from him, he must have given his employer 'just cause', and more importantly frivolously, there must be compensation.

Don't be mistaken. A worker who exhibits repudiatory conduct should be kicked out like a favourite team in the last World Cup. However, I take issue with an association of lawyers which seems uncomfortable with a 'guilty' worker, being found unjustifiably dismissed, "if the correct procedures are not followed." Indeed, the entire practice of law is based on proper procedure. Thus, I cannot accept an officer of the court arguing, "Don't focus just on the fact that you didn't dot the I in the charging letter. Look at the entire circumstances ...".

My erstwhile colleague Dr Andrew Wheatley has resigned his appointment as minister of science and technology, two weeks after Prime Minister Andrew Holness stripped him of the energy subportfolio. Although he does not have the bourgeois, post-colonial accent of his doctoral peer finance minister colleague, Wheatley is a bright man. He is even more brilliant than the bulbs, which shone very brightly on another young rustic-accented politician and ultimately blacked out his career some years ago. Though not a Rhodes Scholar, he is a 'road scholar', who is in the streets like the dotted line. So he is no fool.

Here, the teachings of the man who was nailed upon a 'T' almost 2,000 years ago, instructive. Holness is a professed Christian and is thus familiar with Luke 12:47-48. "And that servant who knew his lord's will ... shall be beaten with many stripes ... For whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." Wheatley, unlike some of his predecessors, who had to fudge their way around the portfolio because they were not men of science, cannot pretend to be ignorant of the runnings.

Our annual expenditure on oil imports is larger than our yearly earnings from exports. It's not time to address the finance minister's stewardship just yet, but suffice it to say that any scenario that involves a devalued Jamaican dollar is a bad one. I have had many face-offs with my theoretical economist colleagues about the harsh reality of devaluation and what the Jamaican data say over the past 40 years. So we better not pussyfoot and hold the dollar tightly and do everything to keep it firm against its US counterpart.

But back to Wheatley, given the impact of the petroleum sector on the entire economy, a failure to protect the assets of the people is a major offence because it can shatter the entire economy and derail the slow independence process that we have been struggling to push forward since 1944. The red flags are many. These include the multimillion overrun on the perimeter fencing. A gap of $66 million dollars is completely in de-fence-ible. He might have put up the fence but cannot put up a defence. Nonetheless, I will allow the technical critics to evaluate the mathematical and engineering pros and cons, with the emphasis on the latter.

However, the human resources management of the whole stewardship of Wheatley is where he gets beaten with stripes from me. Appointing a board chairman who lives outside of Jamaica is as funky as crude oil. Having a board that is overseeing such a critical sector, which has not met for a human gestation period is just unacceptable. Appointing a human resources manager, who is suspected of being close to the minister is not in itself bad. After all, research in this country has shown that most persons who get employed get jobs via contact. However, the profile of the HR manager clearly showed him up.

As regards the Spectrum Management Authority, I am glad that Trevor has gone into the Forrest. However, my question is whether he was acting on Wheatley's instructions. I know nothing about the Warren lady except what became public record. However, that for me is the straw that crippled the camel and shows how broad the spectrum of culpability is. For me, it is not the fact that she was a serial recidivist. What matters is that she lied to us all after the fact.

Thus, it is independence prime minister. Tell us whether you actually fired your namesake because we want to know how bold you are.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.