Almost two years after a union leader was fired for leading an alleged illegal industrial action by medical orderlies, he is facing emotional and financial stress as he waits for the trial to commence.
In court documents filed in his claim against the South West Regional Health Authority (SWRHA) for wrongful dismissal, Andy Acosta, a medical orderly and president of the Unified Health Sector Workers Union, related the hardships he has been facing since his dismissal.
Due to personal issues by one of the attorneys representing the SWRHA, the trial failed to start last October. And last Friday, the matter was supposed to have been heard virtually before Justice Ricky Rahim, but it was put off for June 11 due to health concerns facing the SWRHA’s legal team.
Acosta worked as a medical orderly with the SWRHA from April 5, 2004, until his employment was terminated in April 2019.
Acosta is contending that his dismissal was illegal and the decision is null and void and of no effect. Acosta also sought an injunction that he be reinstated until the conclusion of the matter.
In their joint affidavit, Acosta and his wife, Carlanne Rhea St John-Acosta, said his termination has had a most devastating effect on their household.
They had to sell one of their cars and take their ten-year-old daughter out of a private special needs school.
They added that their financial problems have had an overall effect on their quality of life, especially their daughter’s.
Acosta’s said his attempts to find alternative employment have been difficult, particularly now with the COVID-19 pandemic.
If they have to endure additional time for the completion of the trial, they said “one or both of us will most likely collapse mentally and /or physically.”
However, the court rejected Acosta’s application for an injunction.
Acosta and his wife, the union’s general secretary, registered the union on May 23, 2018.
In his claim, however, Acosta claimed that from the inception the SWRHA had a hostile and aggressive attitude towards the union and its officials.
He further claimed that the SWRHA had embarked on a campaign to prevent the union from progressing and attracting new members from among the monthly paid employees.
Nevertheless, he said the membership has been growing and the union has since reported a number of unresolved trade disputes on behalf of members to the Ministry of Labour.
He said the situation had reached the point where their workplace was toxic and intolerable. He claimed the shift supervisor frequently disrespected, bullied and badgered her subordinates, subjecting them to verbal and virtually physical abuse by thrusting her finger close to their faces. He further claimed that she has been involved in public brawls with employees in the presence of other employees, patients and relatives.
Acosta said the final straw was on the night of January 7, 2019 when she misplaced her car keys and reported to the police that one of the orderlies had stolen her keys to ultimately steal her car.
The keys were eventually found by the hospital’s security officers. The orderlies requested a meeting with their general supervisor and asked that he be present for the meeting.
Acosta claimed he was home when an orderly called him and he agreed to be at the meeting after she assured him that the general supervisor had agreed for him to be present.
When the orderlies took up a shift that night, they gathered outside the hospital.
Acosta saw them outside when he arrived at the hospital at around 9.15 pm and they told him what happened after he inquired about the meeting.
The orderlies spoke to two doctors at separate intervals after which the medical orderlies felt a sense of relief and returned to work.
However, eight days later he was contacted by the SWRHA’s industrial relations officer to collect a letter stating that he had an illegal meeting with the orderlies.
He refused to accept the letter because he felt offended by the allegation. He said on February 26, 2019, the employee relations manager informed him that he was charged with causing nine medical orderlies to engage in illegal industrial action at the Accident and Emergency Department.
He was also informed that he was suspended and summoned to attend a disciplinary tribunal on March 1.
Acosta’s attorney sent a letter to SWRHA indicating that they had violated the RHA regulations. He advised that the disciplinary hearing be abandoned and they enter into discussions to resolve the issue.
On the day of the hearing, Acosta’s attorney was unavailable. Acosta told the panel that he was advised by his attorney not to answer any questions.
On March 14, 2019, Acosta’s attorney sent a pre-action protocol letter to the SWRHA and via letter, Acosta was fired with immediate effect on April 3, 2019.
The SWRHA, however, has countered that Acosta’s claim is frivolous and vexatious and ought to be struck out as an abuse of the process.
In documents filed, the SWRHA denied that it has shown aggressive behaviour towards them or embarked on a campaign to prevent the union from progressing or attracting new members.
It further claimed that until January 8, 2019, no complaints were verbally or in writing reported to/lodged by Acosta or his union or any of the eleven medical orderlies about the shift supervisor.
She had assumed responsibility for the orderlies on January 4, 2019. SWRHA claimed Acosta gave the orderlies oral instructions to down tools in the presence of the managerial staff, and only two orderlies did not comply. The SWRHA said the orderlies request for a meeting was initially refused because there were 26 patients awaiting transfers, two for CT scans and one for an X-ray.
The Accident and Emergency Department was also crowded as patients were not being moved out of the department.
Claiming that the orderlies returned to work at midnight, the SWRHA stated that services in other departments were disrupted and the lives and limbs of patients were put at risk.
SWRHA claimed Acosta contravened Sec 67 (2) of the IRA that deems it unlawful for a worker who engaged in an essential service to take industrial action save and except in circumstances where the employee has reason to believe that his life is in danger.
Acosta is being represented by attorneys Llyod Elcock and Gorgonia Auguste while attorneys Roger Kawalsingh and Carla Scipio are representing the interests of the SWRHA.