An industrial relations expert and a lawyer have questioned the reasons the Board of Director of GECCU gave members for the summary dismissal of then CEO, Rohan Stowe in June.
Lloyd Small, an industrial relations expert, asked the Sept. 19 meeting that the board of Directors of GECCU, had given Rohan Stowe warnings before firing him on seven of the eight grounds outlined in their dismissal letter.
Further questioned by lawyer Roderick Jones on the matter, Michael Sayers, president of GECCU, told the special meeting triggered by members that the board had had discussion with Stowe as well as written to him about their concerns before firing him.
But Small told the meeting that the matter should have been handled by the labour commissioner rather than the chief executive being dismissed summarily.
Stowe was summarily dismissed as CEO of the credit union on June 26, after just three years on the job.
He was sacked days after he and his staff were praised at the June 8 annual general meeting for their performance during the year in review.
The board made the decision to fire Stowe two days before the annual meeting.
Last week, at a special meeting triggered by GECCU members, President of the credit union, Michael Sayers, read the eight reasons he and his board gave Stowe for sacking him.
Among other things, the board said there was “a mis-match (the word conflict is proposed)” between Stowe’s management style and “the spirit and needs of GECCU as a member owned organisation”.
Sayers alleged that there had been “a general failure to consistently carry out [Stowe’s] duties as outlined in paragraphs 3 and 4 of the job description” and that there had been “repeated complaints from members that they have not been able to feel [Stowe’s] presence in the management of the organisation.”
Small told Tuesday’s special meeting that during the interview, there would have been human relations questions asked of the candidates, the answers to which would have spoken to their soft skills.
He said this is very important during the interview period to know who was being selected as chief executive of a large organisation as GECCU — which has some 50,000 members.
“… Seven of the reasons, before you dismiss an individual on those grounds, you must have warning letters — either verbal warnings or written warnings,” Small said and went on to read from the Protection of Employment Act.
He read from the sections of the law that speak to termination with cause and summary dismissal.
Sayers said that one of the reasons for Stowe’s dismissal was the use — allegedly without permission — of Sayers’ e-signature on a document sent to the Financial Services Authority, the regulators of non-bank financial institutions in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“That is summary dismissal. You could have fired him on that — don’t deal with the others — straight away,” Small said, adding that while he was not an expert in the credit union laws, he is an expert in the protection of employment.
Small said that in his view, the most appropriate course of action would have been to write a petition to the labour commissioner who would have interviewed Stowe as well as the GECCU board.
“And therefore, she can give an order to dismiss the person based on the case put forward,” Small said.
“That had not been done and that’s my problem about it, reading the letter of dismissal and reading the act. I am no expert in the credit union laws and spirit of agreement and all of that. I am not an expert on that. I am an expert in industrial relations. And I represent workers’ rights,” Small said.
‘A discussion does not constitute a warning’
Meanwhile, Roderick Jones, a lawyer, noted that Sayers had told the meeting that Stowe had been called into a meeting more than once and there had been a discussion about his behaviour.
“The act is quite clear. A discussion does not constitute a warning and that was what the act requires,” Jones said, referring to the protection of employment law.
He asked whether there was a verbal warning to the CEO prior to his dismissal even as he noted that the Protection of Employment Act authorises termination with cause.
“… My question to you is, is this the first occasion that your signature was used without your authority?”
Sayers said that is the same question he also asked but said that to his knowledge it was the only time that the e-signature was used. He said he hoped that Jones understood the director’s concern.
“But we have to be very careful. We are a membership organisation… This is our credit union and we have to be careful that we don’t run into a place where the integrity of the organisation comes into question, either with the Financial Services Authority or with members also…” Sayers said.
“The board believes that it acted in the best interest of the organisation, not as a personal vendetta or attack against any person but in order to ensure that the organisation was secured, properly benefits from whatever is done and to ensure that we move forward as smoothly as possible.
“There are a lot of things that may happen in any organisation that may easily be misconstrued, it can easily be misinterpreted if you hear half of a story or quarter of a story… We are not here to judge and determine whether or not. This is not the forum for that in my opinion.
“I could be wrong, but we are not legal officers — well you are — but we are not legal officers to sit here and determine or make a judgement call whether or not a dismissal was legal or justified…” Sayers was saying when the remainder of his comments were drowned out by shouting from the floor.
Jones said he did not know if any of the reasons listed except the one relating to the signature, meet the threshold for dismissal for good cause.
Sayers asked if another reason was necessary after that one.
Jones said that if the president was going to make the point that over the tenure there had been discussion regarding his suitability for the post, his question is, was this ever reduced in writing.
Sayers said they had a discussion and wrote to Stowe.
Correction: This article was updated to correct the first name of the industrial relations expert.