PHILIPSBURG–Four employees of Milano Diamond Jewelry store on Front Street who were not paid since June and were fired because they refused to sign a new contract with “a merged company” in 24 hours in which their accumulated rights were ignored, are expected to be paid their salaries.
The workers sought representation from Workers Institute for Organised Labour (WIFOL) and took their case to court. A judge ruled recently that the workers were still employed and should be paid their salaries for the months they had not been paid, with an additional 10 per cent interest. The court also ruled that workers who earned a commission should be paid an average of their commission for the months that they were not paid.
In giving The Daily Herald a synopsis of the matter, WIFOL President Theophilus Thompson said on Tuesday that the issue stemmed from a merger of stores. He said Genoa Jewelers was the name of one of the original businesses and after the merger it was named KRK Corporation doing business as Milano Diamond Jewelry on Front Street. The establishment has two locations in Philipsburg.
After the merger, workers received a new working agreement on June 14 and were given 24 hours to sign that new contract with KRK Corporation or they would be dismissed. Thompson said the new contract ignored the accumulated rights and benefits the workers had built up over the years and they would have been considered new employees.
Five workers signed the agreement out of fear of losing their jobs and not being aware of their rights, but four visited the union for advice and representation. They were advised of their rights in the matter and told to not sign the contract. The four workers had been working at the previous establishment for many years.
The four workers who refused to sign the contract were fired and not paid from June. Thompson said WIFOL had held meetings with management, who he said had refused to accept that the four persons were their employees.
“So, the matter was taken to court and the judge ruled that the employees are still employed and are entitled to their salary from June when they were last paid until now, plus the company has to pay 10 per cent late charge or interest and those whose salary comprises a commission have to be paid an average of their commission for that period that they stopped receiving their salary.” The rights of the workers will also be maintained.
Since the verdict, the WIFOL attorney has already sent the company a letter advising it to honour the court ruling and pay the employees. “They are still considered employees and they are available for work. If they are called back, they are available for work because they are not working anywhere else,” Thompson said.
He considers the verdict a “tremendous victory” for workers in general. He said the verdict is in line with other decisions made with regard to other companies that stopped paying salaries or cut the salaries of workers without their consent.
“This is just another company that has to understand that workers have rights too. They have to understand that they can’t just change company names to the detriment of workers,” Thompson said.
He said the union had mediated in a similar matter for a group of six workers from Caribbean Sun Group NV doing business as Cariloha on Front Street. He said a merger also occurred in this situation, and the workers were given up to October 1 to sign a new working agreement.
The workers were not unionised, but visited WIFOL for advice. They were advised to not sign any working agreement because their years of service and acquired rights were not mentioned. All the workers refused to sign the contract and, although the company had told them to not go to work, WIFOL advised them to still show up to work daily. They have done so and they are still working.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/81475-judge-rules-in-favour-of-front-street-store-workers