Industrial court president: Court not biased toward unions

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Industrial Court president Heather Seale. – File photo

PRESIDENT of the Industrial Court Heather Seale says contrary to perceptions, the court is not biased towards unions and employees.

She made the point while speaking at an industrial relations event hosted by the Employers Solution Centre (ESC) at the Trinidad Hilton on June 21.

The event was held for the first time in five years after it was put on hold during the covid pandemic.

The event was titled, Landmark court judgments: A retrospective 2020-2023.

Speaking during the keynote address, Seale said, “There is sense we never go against the unions or the employees which of course is not true. However you should bear in mind that it is the union that comes to the court in the overwhelming majority of cases.”

She said very few employers initiate action in the court and added many matters are settled before it gets to the trial stage.

“We always say at the case management to the unions, ‘Where you going with this?’ or to the employer for example, ‘You have an uphill struggle, what do you want to do?’ So it is not that, like I sense people feel, it is one sided.”

Seale said the court is unbiased and simply rules on matters of law.

“We have no dogs in the fight. What we are doing is determining good industrial relations practices according to well established principles and practices.”

ESC chairman Keston Nancoo said the event is important to trigger the curiosity of labour stakeholders and ignite discussion among them.

“The legal fraternity, employers, human resource practitioners, the trade unions, it is about giving all participants in the tripartite conversation an opportunity to come together and listen and evaluate the learnings that would have flowed from the judgments.”

Nancoo also weighed in on Seale’s comment about the perceived bias of the court towards unions and employees.

He said this a perception the court’s previous president Deborah Thomas-Felix also battled against.

“The facts bear it out (because) when you examine the facts, it’s there to demonstrate judgments in favour of employers and judgements in favour of the union. So there is a balance.”

He said it is important all members of the tripartite conversation recognise there is fairness in the activities of the court. “People think that the industrial court is a court for unions but it is such an important institution in our jurisdiction that that balance has to be continuously be focused on.”

Participants spent the remainder of the event discussing industrial relations case law on topics such as duty of care, pandemic leave, job abandonment, and progressive discipline. They also discussed the effects of these judgments on workplace policies.