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Questions loom over sacking of country’s first female Labour Commissioner

Valerie Thomas has had a short-lived stint as the country’s first female labour commissioner

Speculation is rife that the 9-month-old Dickon Mitchell administration in St. George’s could be faced with a lawsuit following what some perceive as the “unfair dismissal” of Valerie Thomas as Labour Commissioner, after only four (4) months on the job.

When the appointment of Thomas as the country’s first female Labour Commissioner was announced last November, she was lauded as the most suitable candidate for the job, which includes the responsibility for the administration of the Department of Labour, and the enforcement of the labour act, which outlines a host of other particulars.

However, at a press conference last week Thursday, Labour Minister Senator Claudette Joseph, who maintained that Thomas is more than qualified for the job, announced the sacking of Thomas as her chief advisor on labour matters in the Ministry of Labour, telling reporters that “she did not work out to be a good fit with the staff at the Ministry of Labour.”

According to Minister Joseph, the decision to terminate Thomas’ 2-year stint was taken “upon review of the state of the relationship as requested by the Public Service Commission.”

Sen. Joseph did not go into details as to what triggered the review.

Former Trade Unionist and Labour Consultant Chester Humphrey chimed in on the debate during a recent episode of The Narrative televised programme, questioning the circumstances that led to the termination of Thomas’ contract.

Humphrey described the reasons, advanced by the senior government minister concerning the termination of Thomas’ short-lived stint as Labour Commissioner as “opaque and strange.”

“I wonder how the Public Service Commission made its determination and I wonder what in this wide-ranging, sweeping, phrase, not a good fit, what actually happened?

“And, she (Thomas, her role as Labour Commissioner) is primarily having to do with industrial relations, hearing all the grievances and the different things that are reported to the minister; where is this fit, and who it is among the staff that could not get on with the Labor Commissioner, because I’m kind of lost.”

There are unconfirmed reports that “complaints after complaints” were made to the relevant authorities about the contentious relationship existing at the Ministry of Labour between Thomas and staffers which was affecting the work of the department.

Although the terms and conditions of Thomas’ engagement with the government were not disclosed, Humphrey believes that “she (Thomas) may have a case of unfair dismissal” against the Dickon Mitchell-led Congress administration.

“The process by which you determine a contract, especially for somebody on probation is that you give the probationer a fair opportunity to perform, and if you’re doing an assessment, the person must be told what weaknesses are, where needs to improve et cetera…” Humphrey explained, pointing to Section 7 of the Employment Act.

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“I see nothing in this law, which requires the Labour Commissioner to be a fit with the workers… What does that phrase in essence mean? We don’t know – it’s a very elusive term, and it creates a lot of unnecessary suspicions,” said Humphrey.

According to the former President-General of the Technical & Allied Workers Union (TAWU), “the rapidity in which it (the termination of Thomas) happened has raised eyebrows.”

A Government Information Service (GIS) release issued last November when Thomas was appointed to the top job, said she was expected to drive the Ministry’s transformative labour agenda, and give dedicated focus to finalising the Review of the Labour Code, strengthening case management, advancing the occupational safety and health Agenda; building the decent work and disability in the workplace regulatory regime, strengthening dispute resolution to ensure justice and improve compliance, and enhancing workplace productivity.”

Thomas is a graduate of the Cipriani College of Labour and Cooperative Studies, who specialised in Labour Studies with an emphasis on Negotiations, Labour Administration, Labour Dispute Management, and Tripartite Dialogue.

Her professional career includes employment with one of the largest trade unions in Trinidad and Tobago and highlights a sterling record of success before the industrial courts.

Thomas also has experience in the Grenada Public Service, having worked for over 17 years in the fields of General Administration and Human Resource Development.

Minister Joseph told reporters that the sacked Labour Commissioner did not fit in with the government’s general outlook as it seeks to take steps to enhance the labour climate in Grenada for workers, employers, and specifically the members of staff at the Labour ministry who are delivering on the services to stakeholders.

“We have ended the relationship, and we will go back to the drawing board with a new Labour Commissioner to be announced in the not-too-distant future,” the Labour Minister assured.

Sparkle Greenidge-Courtney, who is currently serving in the post of Deputy Commissioner, has been announced as the new acting Labour Commissioner.

The recently retired acting Labour Commissioner Reginald Lord has been approached by Minister Joseph to return to serve from retirement to take on the responsibility of Consultant in the Ministry of Labour.

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