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Ex-LIAT Workers want government intervention in LIAT payment matter

Justice Agnes Actie – awarded EC$2 million to the LIAT workers in Grenada

Former Grenada employees of LIAT are calling on the Dickon Mitchell-led government in St George’s to intervene and help resolve the issue of EC$2 million awarded to them in compensation by a high court judge in light of the fact that the airline is now totally out of business.

A source involved in the issue told THE NEW TODAY that the over 25 employees who took legal action over three years ago want help from the 19-month old Congress administration “to get monies for these workers” who are no longer employees of the cash-strapped company.

She said the employees decided to embark upon this course of action in light of reports that LIAT will no longer be operating and that its operations are now being taken over by a Nigerian-based airline company.

She disclosed that plans are afoot to make a direct approach to Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell to “intervene or assist” in bringing closure to this outstanding matter with the regional island-hopping carrier.

“….Our workers are just here suffering and a $2 million judgment has not been satisfied,” she said.

The local law firm of Geo. E.D. Clyne, which won the judgment against LIAT for the workers, is known to have written directly to LIAT to pay the workers.

About 18 months ago, the LIAT workers in Grenada made an unsuccessful attempt to seize one of LIAT’s aircraft in lieu of the monies owed to them.

Speculation is rife that pressure at the political level in the region torpedoed the efforts of the embattled ex-LIAT workers.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces in full the EC$2 million judgment handed down by female high court judge Justice Agnes Actie against the owners of LIAT and in favour of the workers in Grenada.

ORAL RULING
[1] The claimants are former employees of the defendant, (‘Liat’). They claim that upon the termination of their employment with Liat they did not receive any payment for monies due and owing during the course of their employment. Liat admitted to the sums owed in a letter to the Trade union representative for the claimants and that it would commence making payments to the claimants by instalments. However, Liat failed to pay the sums still outstanding and owing to the claimants. Collectively, the claimants allege that they are owed the sum of $2,036,661.10 upon the termination of their employment.

[2] Liat, in its defence, contends that the claim is statute barred with respect to all of the claimants, save and except the twenty-seventh and twenty-eight claimants. Liat said that the first and second, fourth to seventh, ninth and tenth, twelfth to fifteenth, seventeenth to twentieth, twenty-fourth to twenty-sixth, thirty-first and thirty-third claimants all resigned from their employment and were not entitled to any payment upon such termination. The third, sixteenth, twenty-first, twenty-second and twenty-ninth claimants were terminated on the grounds of redundancy and were all paid entitlements upon such termination. The twenty-third and thirtieth claimants retired from their employment and therefore were not entitled to any payment on their retirement. The eleventh, twenty-seventh, twenty-eight and thirty-second claimants were terminated for cause and thus were not entitled to termination pay.

[3] The matter came for trial and counsel on record for the defendant informs the court that she did not have any instructions from the defendant company. The representative and witnesses for the defendant were also absent. The court notes however that counsel has not removed herself from the record.

Law and Analysis
[4] It is the duty of the claimants in the circumstances to prove their case in the absence of the defendant and witnesses. The defence raises the issue that the claim is statute barred, save for Derek Charles and Marlon Renwick, the twenty-seventh and twenty-eight claimants respectively. In the reply, counsel for the claimants pleaded that the defendant acknowledged the debt in 2011 by way of letter to Senator the Hon. Chester Humphrey, who was the then President General of the Trade Union.

[5] The letter dated 4th May 2011 and signed by llean Ramsey, Director, Human Resources using Liat’s letterhead of the defendant reads :

“The Company wishes to acknowledge the outstanding amounts due to the employees for hours worked.” Further, the Director, states that the Finance Department is working to arrive at a proposed schedule of payments and this proposal of payments is to be provided in next two weeks.

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[6] The claimants deny that their claim is statute barred. They aver that the letter of 4th May from llean Ramsey is an acknowledgement of the debt which created a new cause of action from the date of the acknowledgement. The claimants rely on Sections 46 and 47 of the Limitation of Actions Act which provide as follows:

Section 46. Acknowledgments

“(1) In all actions grounded upon any simple contract, no acknowledgment or promise by words only shall be deemed sufficient evidence of a new or continuing contract whereby to take any case out of the operation of this Act or to deprive any party of the benefit thereof, unless the acknowledgment or promise is made or contained by or in some writing signed by the party chargeable thereby:

Provided always, that nothing herein contained shall alter, take away, or lessen the effect of any payment of any principal or interest by any person whatsoever.

(2) If in any action against two or more joint contractors, or the executors or administrators of any joint contractors, it appears at the trial or otherwise that the plaintiff, though barred by this Act as to one or more of the joint contractors or executors or administrators, is nevertheless entitled to recover against any other or others of the defendants by virtue of a new acknowledgment or promise, or otherwise, judgement may be given and costs allowed for the plaintiff as to the defendant or defendants against whom he or she recovers, and for the other defendant or defendants against the plaintiff.”

Section 47. Acknowledgment of agent

“An acknowledgment or promise made or contained by or in writing signed by an agent of the person chargeable thereby, duly authorised to make it, shall have the same effect, for the purposes of actions mentioned in the preceding section, as if the writing had been signed by the person himself or herself.”

[7] The court is of the view that the letter from the Director, Ms. Ramsey, amounts to an acknowledgment of the debt by the party or agent on behalf of the party to be charged. The claim was brought in 2013. The six years limitation period did not elapse from the date of acknowledgement to the filing of the claim. Accordingly, the debt is not statute barred as the debt was revived in 2011.

[8] The claimants claim for damages and pleads the sum of $2,036,661.10 owed by the defendant upon the termination of their employment. The claim itemized the amount due to each claimant in a schedule in the claim.

[9] The defendant being absent cannot rely on their witness statements and neither can there be cross examination of the claimants and witnesses. It was now left for the court to determine whether the claimants have proved their case on a balance of probabilities.

[10] The court having reviewed the statement of claim, the witness statements and evidence, is satisfied that the claimants have established that the defendant by its own admission is indebted to the claimants and judgment on liability should be entered in favour of the claimants.

[11] However, it is trite law that special damages must be specifically pleaded and proved. (see British Transport Commission v Gourley). The claimants aver that they are entitled to payment for severance pay and overtime wages and plead a bulk amount for each claimant. The claimants merely relied on a calculation spread sheet from the defendant’s agent which amount was disputed in the defence. It is for the claimants to prove the amounts claimed and their entitlement. The claimants have to establish the number of years worked, whether money owed to each claimant is for severance pay, redundancy or overtime wages and the method of calculation.

Order
[12] It is ordered and directed as follows:

(1) Judgment on liability is entered in favour of the claimants with damages to be assessed.

(2) The claimants shall file witness statements, submissions and authorities in support of the assessment of damages on or before 30th March 2021.

(3) The defendant, if interested in participating in the assessment, shall file and serve witness statements, submissions with authorities on or before the 30th April 2021.

(4) The assessment of damages shall be scheduled for hearing on 14th June 2021, unless a consent order on quantum is filed.

Agnes Actie
High Court Judge
By the Court

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