In dismissing a million-dollar claim brought by a former contract worker for salary and other financial benefits, a High Court judge said people tend to have unrealistic financial expectations when dealing with statutory bodies.
Justice Frank Seepersad described this attitude as disturbing as he ruled that the claimant, Devon Peterkin, was only entitled to one month’s salary.
Peterkin sought a sum of $643,958 from the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) and $451,530 from the Tobago Regional Health Authority (TRHA) representing a shortfall in salary and gratuity and non-payment of call-out allowance.
In his judgment, the judge said, “It appears that the claimant, in retrospect, had unrealistic expectations. There is a disturbing tendency where far too many citizens, once dealing with a statutory body, operate with unrealistic, unjustified, unpatriotic and unreasonable financial expectations. This practice has to be curtailed and there must be a shift in attitude as productivity and citizenship need to be the factors which drive citizens, if as a Republic, we are to realise our limitless potential.”
Peterkin was contracted by the THA as a facility manager of the Roxborough Hyperbaric Facility, Tobago with a salary of $5,802 per month.
He contended that he expressed his dissatisfaction to the Secretary of the Division with the remuneration and that his contract did not speak to him being on a 24-hour call. Peterkin claimed he was told that after his first 90 days of probation, the contract would be reviewed.
He then signed the contract in January 2010. Upon completion of the probationary period in April 2010, he claimed he tried without success to speak with the secretary about the enhancing of his remuneration package.
He claimed that he also raised concerns with the administrator and requested a renewal of his contract for an additional two years and he asked for a call out allowance of $3,500.
After his vacation, Peterkin resumed work in January 2011 but no written contract was executed. He testified that he continued working because he relied upon the assurances advanced by the Secretary and the Administrator that he would receive a proper remuneration package.
However, in June 2011, after the secretary and administrator were replaced, the Hyperbaric Facility was handed over to the TRHA.
Peterkin said he was called out several times outside the normal working hours. In December 2012, Peterkin said he was offered a new contract for two years and a month later he met with the CEO and complained about his compensation package. He continued working with his old rate after she assured him that his concerns would be addressed. Acting out of frustration, Peterkin said on September 26, 2014, he refused to a complete emergency decompression treatment.
He claimed the secretary of the THA promised him appropriate changes would be made to his contract. However, in March 2015 he was taken off the payroll without notice of termination or explanation. Subsequently, he said a new facility manager was hired at a substantially higher salary of $20,000 per month with a call out allowance of $7,650 per call.
The THA, however, denied that any communication took place between Peterkin and the Secretary regarding probation and an increase. The TRHA stated that Peterkin’s contract expired on December 31, 2014 and he failed to apply for a renewal of contract and was thereafter paid on a monthly basis.
The TRHA said Peterkin returned the keys to the TRHA’s head office without notice and therefore the services of another contractor were engaged. Having expanded its services, the TRHA admitting to paying the new contractor $20,000 per month.
The court found that Peterkin’s evidence did not support his claim.
Attorney Deborah Moore-Miggins represented Peterkin while attorney Trudy Caraballo represented the THA. Attorneys Lennox Phillips Jr and Myrna Walters represented the interests of the TRHA.