The Antigua Trades and Labour Union Defendant/Appellant v George Herbert Walter Plaintiff/Respondent [ECSC]

JurisdictionCaribbean States
CourtEastern Caribbean Supreme Court
JudgeLEWIS, C.J., Allen Lewis, CECIL LEWIS, J.A., P. Cecil Lewis, ST. BERNARD, J.A., Chief Justice
Judgment Date24 Apr 1972
Neutral Citation[1972] ECSC J0424-1
Docket NumberCivil Appeal No. 3 of 1970
[1972] ECSC J0424-1

IN THE COURT OF APPEAL

Before:

The Honourable The Chief Justice

The Honourable Mr. Justice Cecil Lewis

The Honourable Mr. Justice St. Bernard

Civil Appeal No. 3 of 1970

Between:
The Antigua Trades and Labour Union
Defendant/Appellant
and
George Herbert Walter
Plaintiff/Respondent

McChesney George for appellant

D. Christian for respondent

LEWIS, C.J.
1

This case arises out of the dismissal, on 5th May, 1967, of the respondent from his office of General Secretary of the appellant Union. He was an elected officer and by rule 11(l) of the Union's Rules held office during the pleasure of the Union, but in fact since 1960 he had been re-elected annually at the annual conference of delegates. The last such election was in September 1966. His duties were,inter alia, to conduct the business of the Union in accordance with its Rules, and carry out the instructions of the annual conference and of the Executive Committee; in conjunction with the treasurer and one of the trustees, to sign cheques on behalf of the Union; and to be responsible for all financial books and for all monies belonging to the Union. He was ex officio a member of the Executive Committee and had the right to speak but not to vote at meetings. He was paid a salary of $400.00 per month and allowances.

2

On 5th May, 1967, the Executive Committee passed a resolutiondismissing him from his office and at the same meeting appointed one Donald Sheppard to act as General Secretary "as of now". Negotiations ensued with a view to the respondent's reinstatement but broke down because the Executive Committee would not accept a condition insisted on by the respondent that all Ministers of Government who were members of the Executive Committee should resign from that Committee. The respondent accordingly brought his action for damages for wrongful dismissal. In paragraph 7 and 8 of the statement of claim he pleaded –

"7. No notice of any charge was given to the Plaintiff nor was he allowed to speak at the said meeting.

8. In consequence of the said decision the Plaintiff has been and is still excluded from his post as General Secretary of the said Union and from his rights and privileges attached to the said post and has suffered damage".

3

By way of defence the appellant pleaded that the respondent "has been conducting himself in a manner adverse to the best interest of the" Union and that he had been "removed from office for reasons which the defendant deemed good and sufficient in the interest of the defendant as provided in rule 10(f)(v) of" its Rules. A further plea alleged that the respondent was dismissed for breach of duties owed by a servant to his master at common law. Counsel for the appellants, who also appeared in the court below, informed this Court that reliance was placed only on the former plea.

4

Particulars of the reasons deemed good and sufficient under rule 10(f)(v) were delivered by order of the court. Those relevant to this appeal were –

  • (i) Disloyalty.

  • (ii) Failure to account for Union's money.

  • (iii) Forming cliques in the organisation and constantly quarrelling with the older officers.

  • (iv) Generally acting in many little ways to show his dissatisfaction with and contempt for the Union, its policy, and members of the Executive duly elected by Annual Conference.

5

The evidence led at the trial was directed to the issues raised by these pleadings. In his closing address, however, counsel for the defence submitted for the first tine that since by virtue of rule 11(c)the General Secretary holds office during the pleasure of the Union, his position was akin to that of a civil servant, and that the Executive Committee could dismiss him summarily and he would have no right of action for wrongful dismissal.

6

The learned judge held against the appellant on all issues and awarded the respondent $5,694 as damages.

7

On this appeal counsel for the appellant advanced submissions under two main heads, viz:

  • (1) That the services of the respondent could be terminated at the pleasure of the appellant whenever they so desire without notice of any kind and without assigning any reason.

  • (2) That the judge's findings of fact on the issues raised by the particulars of reasons for dismissal referred to above are erroneous and the judge ought to have held that the respondent was dismissed for a reason or reasons deemed good and sufficient in the interest of the Union.

8

I shall deal first with the circumstances in which the resolution purporting to dismiss the respondent was passed. The meeting of 5th May was an extraordinary meeting of the Executive Committee summoned at the instance of the President of the Union, Mr. V.C. Bird, in place of the regular meeting scheduled for the 28th April which had been cancelled. No minutes of this meeting were put in evidence but learned counsel for the appellant told this Court that he accepts the evidence of the respondent on this point as substantially correct. The learned judge has recorded what occurred in the following words:

"At the meeting, the preliminary formalities having been completed, the President referred to his efforts to get the Executive members to work together, their inability to do so and strongly recommended that the plaintiff, among others, be dismissed from office.

The plaintiff sought an opportunity to speck but was denied it and the majority present voted for his dismissal.

No other business was undertaken, no minutes of the previous meeting were confirmed and the meeting came to an end within about 10 minutes of its commencement.

9

One fact mentioned by the respondent but omitted by the judge should be added. When the witness, Joseph Cornwall, a member of the Executive was called on to vote he asked the President why he recommendedthe respondent's dismissal. The President replied, to use the respondent's words, "that I disagree with the wages being paid at the factory"; and in Cornwall's words, "you know, you know the General Secretary went to the Bank." This reply referred to an accusation which Mr. Bird and Mr. McChesney George, a member of the Executive Committee, had during the previous week made against the respondent that he had gone to the Manager of Barclays Bank and advised him not to lend the Government any money to operate the sugar industry which they had recently purchased because they were not paying the workers at the Factory adequate wages. This was a grave accusation because the Government was closely bound up with the Union. Mr. Bird was also the Premier, and all members of the Government were members of the Executive Committee. The learned judge found that this accusation had been investigated by a subcommittee of the Executive Committee and found to be untrue. The appellant in its defence denied the allegation in paragraph 4 of the Statement of Claim that the reason given for his dismissal was that he did not agree to the wages offered by the Board of Management of the Antigua Sugar Factory to the workers of the said Factory.

10

This evidence about the meeting of 5th May established (1) that the motion that the respondent be dismissed from his office was brought forward without previous notice to members (2) that the respondent was denied the right to speak on the motion to which he was entitled under the rules; (3) that no specific charge against the respondent was put before the Executive Committee which the Committee might deem a good and sufficient reason for dismissing the respondent from his office; (4) that in answer to a member the President gave as the reason for the proposed dismissal the allegation already proved to be unfounded concerning the respondent's visit to the Bank.

11

In my opinion the irregularities disclosed by this evidence with respect to the passing of the motion for the respondent's dismissal are so grave as to vitiate and render invalid the decision of the Executive Committee. Not the least serious is the arbitrary denial to the respondent of his right to speak on a motion which vitally affectedhis status as an officer and his livelihood. This denial deprived him of the opportunity to influence the mind of the meeting and perhaps to persuade a majority of the members that the statements made by the President were in fact unfounded and no good reason for his dismissal. The decision was obtained without the mind of the meeting being brought to bear upon any specific charge preferred against the respondent and in breach of fundamental rules of procedure. This in my opinion was an improper exercise of the Committee's power under rule 10(f)(v) and renderer the dismissal wrongful.

12

This would be sufficient to dispose of the appeal, but I shall make a few observations about the grounds on which the appeal was mainly argued. These, and the facts relevant to them have been fully dealt with in the judgments about to be delivered by Cecil Lewis, J.A. and St. Bernard, J.A. with which I agree.

13

Dealing with the second ground first the submission was that the judge should have found that the particulars mentioned above had been proved and that these constituted good reasons for the respondent's dismissal in the interest of the Union. Learned counsel for the appellant appeared to treat the particulars as being so many separate reasons which the Union deemed to be good reasons for dismissal and submitted that it was not necessary that these should have been in the mind of the Executive Committee when the resolution was passed. He urged that it was sufficient for the appellant to prove them at the trial. This was in keeping with the pleading in paragraph 5 of the defence that the dismissal was for reasons which the defendant (not the Executive Committee) deemed good and sufficient. On the construction of rule 10(f)(v) I am of opinion that when the Executive Committee purports to exercise its power under the latter part of that rule the Committee must have before it the complaint...

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