Wednesday, February 19, 2020
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
A SUPREME Court ruling ordering the reinstatement of 24 workers from the Gaming Board has excited people like Meresha Walkes, a 46-year-old woman who was forced to find a new home and create a different lifestyle when she was fired from the board in 2017.
The upheaval the termination sparked led workers, some of whom had college degrees, to struggle with their mortgages, utility bills and children’s private school fees, she said yesterday.
Justice Indra Charles, in one of the first rulings challenging any part of the Minnis administration’s termination exercises, ordered Monday that the employees be reinstated and paid damages.
She said the redundancy procedures outlined in the Employment Act were not followed, including its mandate that the relevant union be consulted before people are made redundant.
Fired in November 2017, Ms Walkes was the longest serving member of the Gaming Board’s accounts department when she was fired, having worked there for nearly 11 years. She was also the chief shop steward of the union.
She gave insight into the difficulties fired government workers encounter trying to get another job, saying it took her six months to find new work with employers wary of hiring workers with a termination in their background.
“Because it happened so suddenly we couldn’t prepare for it,” she said. “Other people had mortgages. People lost their power. A lot of the financial institutions were really brutal and I had people calling me in tears saying ‘What are we going to do?’ People tried finding employment all over the place. I sent out at least 50 resumes and most people were like, ‘Didn’t you get fired? Didn’t you get terminated?’ Employers were rejecting very good employees, persons with specialised skills, like a lady who was a CPA who still can’t find employment until this day. Most employers don’t want to know an employee is coming from a prestigious agency and was terminated. That’s not a good look. It makes them skeptical and makes them think maybe we did something wrong.”
Adjusting to her new life was difficult, she said.
“The lifestyle that we were used to was taken away drastically. Our residence, a really nice apartment, we don’t have that anymore, we had to find a different place to stay. Thanks to friends and family and their dad my girls were able to remain in private school but they were nervous about what they would do about college. We had plans. I had to tell them everything would work out, don’t worry about it. Although I found employment, the salary wasn’t like what it was before. It was a huge adjustment for me, a life-changing experience.”
The Gaming Board fired the employees after performing a manpower audit. Ms Walkes said to date, at least 16 of the fired employees have said they will return to the Gaming Board in keeping with the judge’s reinstatement order. She said some workers who found new employment, however, are wary of returning because they fear the Gaming Board will seek to terminate them again using a different process.
“Some of the fired workers, one or two who found jobs, decided they will stay where they are. Others say they don’t want to go back because they don’t know if they have the emotional strength to deal with going through that again,” she said. “While it is their right to terminate employees, the bargaining unit is governed by an Industrial Agreement that outlines how you are to determine who to let go. One thing it says is that the last in should be the first out. So for them to fire us again would be very surprising but if they do so the process would have to be different and therefore the result will be different. A lot of people affected this time won’t be affected that time but others would be.”