Kicked out after 15 years

Kicked out after 15 years

Helper who cared for veteran cricket umpire thrown on the street after his death, without compensation

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 11, 2020

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HOUSEHOLD worker Sharon Ferguson has seemingly, in cricket terms, been given out off a no-ball after spending over 15 years at the crease batting for one of Jamaica's legends.

Ferguson cared for former Test cricket umpire John “Johnny” Gayle, and his wife Marjorie who predeceased him, but after Gayle died September 15 at age 96, the live-in household worker was dismissed without the requisite compensation that would follow, including redundancy. She was given one week's verbal notice, and pay for five days.

Ferguson was also given an ultimatum to move, which expired on Friday, but before that had water to the premises cut off, for one day last week.

Now, the matter could be headed for a legal showdown as Ferguson, who said she was employed by daughter of the deceased man, Alethia Gayle Archer, in 2005 to look after her parents, is insisting that she ought to be paid off, and has engaged the services of veteran attorney-at-law, former Public Defender Earl Witter, QC, to represent her interest.

Witter has since written to Gayle Archer, who is said to be living in the United States but who came to Jamaica to manage funeral arrangements for her father, who has two other sons, Errol and Val.

Witter, in a letter to Gayle Archer dated October 6 copied to Ferguson and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, a copy of which was seen briefly by the Jamaica Observer, demanded full compensation for Ferguson, and pledged to fight her battle with vigour to ensure that justice is served.

Among the demands made by Witter is for 20 weeks' salary to be paid to Ferguson, representing two weeks' per year for the first 10 years of her continuous employment, a further 15 weeks' pay representing three weeks compensation per year for the last five years of her employment, and five weeks' pay in lieu of notice, based upon the provisions of the Employment (Termination and Redundancy Payments) Act, 1974.

Ferguson's dismissal was described by Witter in the letter as being “unlawful” and “contrary” to what the Act prescribes, and went further to call the action by Gayle Archer as “cruel and reprehensibly inhumane ”.

Legal fees are also being asked by Witter, who gave Gayle Archer up to Friday, October 8 to settle the matter or face legal consequences.

The soft-spoken household helper confirmed to the Sunday Observer yesterday that she was no longer at the Carvalho Drive, Kingston 10 house where she has spent most of the last 15 years working double-digit hours daily, and being on call throughout the night if anything went wrong.

“Yes, I moved out yesterday,” a solemn Ferguson stated. “It's a very sad situation. Sad, sad,” was among the few words that she was prepared to utter.

She referred the Sunday Observer to Witter, who, when contacted by telephone, sounded surprised that the newspaper had become aware of the matter.

“I am representing Ms Ferguson and I have been in discussion with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. But how did you get so much information on the matter? Anyway, my only comment is 'the plot thickens',” Witter submitted, before saying that he was dealing with another issue and had to go.

When the Sunday Observer visited the Carvalho Drive residence yesterday in search of a member of the Gayle family for a comment, no one ventured out to answer knocks on the mailbox, or honks from the vehicle's horn.

On the first visit at 11:21 am, several knocks on the mailbox went unanswered. A motor car was parked in the driveway and a radio was playing in the background.

A passerby walking his dog at the time of the Sunday Observer's first visit suggested sotto voce that someone had left the premises 'not too long before'.

Upon the second visit at 12.51 pm, the same motor car was parked in the driveway, with its right front door ajar. Again, no one responded to knocks and several honks of the horn.

It could not be determined whether or not Gayle Archer had retained the services of counsel to deal with the matter, as word emerged later in the day that she had left Jamaica for the United States on a flight early afternoon.

Ferguson's stint, which ended Friday, was the second in the employ of Gayle Archer, as she had done work for her in St Elizabeth during the 1980s before she quit.

And contacted later Friday, a senior employee of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security confirmed that the ministry had received a copy of Witter's letter and was dealing with the matter, based on the procedures to be followed.

“The letter is at the ministry and it will be dealt with through the same channels in which such disputes are handled,” said the official who asked the Sunday Observer to protect his identity by not mentioning his name, as he was not the one directly responsible for handling it.

“Due to the nature of this matter, it will be given priority attention, as time is of the essence,” the official stated.

Such an industrial dispute is likely to open up old wounds in respect of how workers are handled, in particular household helpers who have complained of irregular treatment by their employers over the years.

Johnny Gayle, an agriculturalist by profession before he took on cricket umpiring — initially as a hobby that followed his playing friendly cricket matches — served the sport for over 75 years, umpiring at the domestic, regional and international levels.

St Elizabeth-born Gayle stood in three Test matches over a 14-year period, 1972 to 1986, and three One-Day Internationals spread between 1984 and 1988. Regionally, he officiated in competitions for 16 years, starting in 1970 and ending in 1986.

In partnership with Douglas Sang Hue, Gayle was highly respected and regarded as the foremost umpire produced by Jamaica, up until the coming of Steve Bucknor who went on to become the most popular official to have emerged from this Caribbean island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, by last census statistics.

Gayle was also secretary of the Jamaica Cricket Association for 20 years, and president for 12.

In a newspaper obituary last week, his family said the man who was recognised by the Government with the national honour of Order of Distinction (Officer Class), in 2000, would be given a private service that would involve immediate family members on an unnamed date. The notice said that the move was being made in keeping with Government's COVID-19 restrictions.


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