Fifteen former employees of the Castries Constituency Council (CCC) who claimed that the contracts they had with the Council were terminated without lawful cause are now smiling, thanks to the conclusion of their cases in the Commercial Division of the High Court.
The 15 had alleged that they were engaged under fixed-term contracts of service with the CCC, for the provision of maintenance and janitorial services.
The former contractors went to the court seeking special damages equivalent to the sums they would have earned for the unexpired portion of their contracts. According to court documents, collectively, the claim was for $3,759,055.00, interest and costs.
The CCC, in its defense, expressed the view that the contracts were not properly executed and defective in material respects, which rendered them invalid and unenforceable. Further, the 15 were independent contractors engaged under contracts for service which could have been terminated without notice or payment in lieu of notice. And in the circumstances, it is not liable for breach of contract.
The issues Justice Cadie St Rose-Aibertini had to determine were whether valid, enforceable contracts exist between the former employees and the CCC; were the 15 employees, dependent contractors or independent contractors; were the contracts lawfully terminated and if they were not, what would be the measure of damages the 15 past employees were entitled to, for breach of contract.
A background look at the case revealed that in September 2011 the 15 were engaged by the Council, under fixed-term contracts for 5 years. They were labourers and sanitation workers who were required to provide maintenance and janitorial services within the City of Castries and its environs. The contracts were prepared by the Council and signed by the 15 at the Council’s office. Court documents noted that the 15 provided the services as agreed, in areas designated by the Council. Their earnings were deposited into their respective bank accounts every fortnight.
Under the Act the boundaries of the areas governed by the CCC were extended and with this came the attendant increase in providing sanitation services to constituents. In April 2012, a new Council was appointed, which immediately undertook a review of the obligations and liabilities of the CCC. According to the CCC, the review revealed that its financial liabilities far exceeded its income. There existed some 33 independent sanitation contracts which were vague and incomplete, with ambiguities that made it difficult to perform its obligations under these contracts.
The CCC says that the fifteen’s refusals to have their contracts regularized by accepting revised contracts and budgetary constraints led to the decision to terminate their contracts.
The trial spanned a period of five days. The court heard from 19 witnesses, including the 15 claimants, Mr. Lambert Nelson the former Town Clerk and Mr. Arthur Charles Sanitation Supervisor at the CCC, who testified on behalf of the claimants. Mrs. Shirley Lewis former Chairperson and Mr. Lyndell Brown former Councilor of the CCC testified on behalf of the defendant (CCC).
Justice St Rose-Aibertini noted that there was nothing in the evidence to suggest that the 15 were not performing according to the standards set by the CCC or were engaging in misconduct of any kind. They had performed under the contracts for several months without objection.
“In the circumstances I accept the claimants’ arguments and conclude that the contracts were not terminated by mutual consent or lawful cause,” St Rose-Aibertini wrote.
In determining whether the CCC was liable for damages for breach of contract the judge ordered as follows:
“The (15) claimants are employees within the classification of dependent contractor and were engaged under fixed term contracts for 5 years.
“The contracts were not terminated for lawful cause.
“The claimants are entitled to the sum equal to the total net earnings respectively for the unexpired term of the contracts, as outlined in the particulars of the Amended Statement of Claim filed on February 12, 2015 with post judgment interest at the rate of 6 percent per annum to date of payment.
“The claimants shall have their costs to be assessed, unless agreed within 21 days.”
Appearing on behalf of the 15 claimants were Mrs. Lydia Faisal with Mr. Bernick Faisal, while Mr. Peter Foster QC with Ms. Renee St Rose and Ms. Ann Alicia Fegan appeared for the Defendant (CCC).