~ Security CCTV video never showed the workers looting Penha Store ~
PHILIPSBURG, Sint Maarten – On March 9, the Court in the First Instance handled the injunction petition filed by 9 dismissed Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) security workers.
These workers were dismissed by PJIA for allegedly looting items from the Penha Store in October 2017. The workers, through their Union, demanded reinstatement, but PJIA maintained the dismissals despite efforts through the Labor Department to have the matter settled. The workers were of the opinion that permission had been given to take certain items, however, most of them still didn’t take anything.
There was no proof of the workers’ involvement even though PJIA claimed to have video footage. The workers felt that the airport had been discriminatory in its decision to maintain their dismissal because others who were involved were not dismissed and allowed back to work.
The workers thus engaged the legal services of their Attorney Shaira Bommel (Sulvaran and Peterson law firm), who together with Attorney Cindy Marica-Henderson (Mariflex Attorneys) filed an injunction against PJIA based on the unlawful dismissals.
The workers’ salaries, from the date of their dismissal, were claimed.
PJIA, on the other hand, through its lawyer Femke Jansen (Lexwell), submitted a so-called conditional request for dissolution of the labor contracts of the workers in as far as the Court might declare the dismissals unlawful. The basis for the conditional dissolution requests is that the airport can no longer trust the workers.
The Attorneys of the workers successfully refuted these grounds, as this again showed discrimination by PJIA. How could the airport lose trust in these workers? Most of the dismissed workers have a clean slate and have been loyal workers for over 15 years. Some even have over 25 years of loyal and dedicated service.
“There was absolutely no proof of the looting by the workers. The video footage didn’t show anything. Even the ones shown during the handling of the cases didn’t show anything. Moreover, the airport has withdrawn one of the dismissals after they reviewed the video footage and concluded that the worker involved was not in the video. Why did the airport not review all the other allegedly available footage,” the attorneys claimed.
Another fact showing the inappropriate manner in which the airport acted is that the workers were not allowed to record the questioning by the Head of Security. There were no reports of the questioning of the workers, and therefore there is no proof of what they stated.
The Court, in its rulings of this morning, agreed with the arguments of the workers’ lawyers and agreed that the dismissals could be deemed unlawful and justifiably nullified. The Judge also questioned and disapproved of the manner in which the so-called investigation took place into the accusations against the workers. It was evident that permission had been given to take the remaining damaged goods out of the store. This is why a large group of workers went ahead and got the items. The fact that the workers returned items and/or offered to return the items when they learned that there might not have been permission to take the items out of the store, clearly showed that there was no intention to loot, but merely some miscommunication.
The Judge agreed with the workers that the airport acted at will and didn’t treat the involved workers equally. The workers have a very long work relationship and have dedicated their years to the airport and as such have a justified interest in maintaining their jobs.
The Court awarded the workers their salaries from November 2017, increased with legal interest and a late payment fine of 10%. The salaries must be paid until the date the labor agreement is legally dissolved.
The conditional dissolution requests of PJIA were denied. The Court condemned the manner in which the airport handled their investigation. There is no urgent reason for a dissolution nor has the airport successfully proven that they had justified reasons for losing trust in the workers. The Court also took into account the long duration of the Labor agreements of the workers.
The airport must pay the legal fees of the Attorneys of the workers up to the tune of NAf. 1,000 in each of the cases.
The workers were extremely happy that justice had been served and are looking forward to returning to work.