Gov’t willing to review non-disclosure clauses in settlements, says PM

Gov’t willing to review non-disclosure clauses in settlements, says PM

Friday, February 08, 2019

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PRIME Minister Andrew Holness, who has come under fire for the non-disclosure clause in the pay-off to former Petrojam human resources Manager Yolande Ramharrack, says that his Administration is willing to review, very carefully, the use of the clause in settling issues involving the separation of public servants from their jobs.

The prime minister has also indicated the willingness of the Government to meet with any of the parties who consider that they were arbitrarily dismissed from their jobs at the Petrojam oil refinery, and are currently involved in arbitration, to seek a settlement of their dispute.

Holness made the offers as he summed up his Administration’s position on the recent settlement with Ramharrack and the disputed dismissals at the refinery, which are currently being arbitrated.

In response to the Opposition’s reactions which followed his responses to their questions during a noisy and lengthy period of exchanges in the House, Holness said that he sympathised with their objections to the use of non-disclosure clauses in the $9.2 million settlement with Ramharrack, and suggested that the use of such clauses to block public disclosure should be reviewed.

He said that while the use of such clauses was not unusual in the public sector, the points which were raised indicated that the Government should seriously examine, from a policy perspective, whether or not it should allow non-disclosure agreements in the public sector.

“The Government will have to come to review and come to a new position regarding such agreements that have anything to do with public funds,” Holness said.

In terms of the former employees of the refinery who have sought conciliation or arbitration of benefits due to them following their dismissals, he said that he has confidence in the new board which was appointed in 2018, following the exposure of several scandalous developments at the refinery.

“I said to them (board) that, as best as possible, the national interest is to return Petrojam to a stable, functioning organisation and whatever the issues are to take a posture of settlement,” he stated.

“This side does not in any way endorse the improper dismissal of any employee of the State and we feel strongly about it…It is the same disdain for a cavalier action which I am trying to avoid (at this time),” Holness told the House.

“So, if it is that someone before the IDT (Industrial Disputes Tribunal) is comforted that that is the posture, and decides to come from the process and come to the table, then that is good. But, I just have to be absolutely careful, because anything that I say on this very delicate subject could be used in a legal action,” he noted.

“So, my posture is one of having to be absolutely careful while, at the same time, trying to ensure that the public knows what the settlement is, and the public has an idea of what the charges are. I have also assured the public that what the board did was justified in balancing what would be the cost of continuing the legal exposure, versus settling now and stabilising the organisation and going forward,” the prime minister added.

– Balford Henry

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