Gov’t To Pay Former Director Vt33 Million

By Royson Willie

Former Livestock Director Benuel Tarilongi

The Republic of Vanuatu has been ordered by the Supreme Court to pay Vt33 million to former Director of Department of Livestock, Mr Benuel Tarilongi, as settlement for a long-standing employment dispute.

This order was made on April 22, 2020 in the civil claim between Mr Benuel Tarilongi as Claimant and Republic of Vanuatu as Defendant.

Supreme Court Judge, Gustaaf Andrée Wiltens found that Tarilongi’s termination in 2013 by the Public Service Commission was unjustified.

Tarilongi had sought damages against the State at a total of Vt79 million.

But after deliberations, the Claim was significantly reduced and claims for damages relating to breach of contract, housing allowance, common law damages, child allowance and repatriation were abandoned.

In 2016, a large proportion of the claim of severance was agreed. The amount agreed upon to be owed to Tarilongi was Vt10 million (10,799,769), which was paid immediately to the claimant.

But there was dispute as to when the former director commenced his employment with the Public Service Commission.

The Supreme Court says this is now resolved and it is agreed that the severance sum be increased by Vt207,591 to take into account the 15 months longer service from February 2, 1987.

It was also agreed that three months of VNPF payments was owed, which amounts to Vt25,401

There were two remaining issues.

The first related to the section 56(4) of the Employment Act where unjustified termination of employment can result in the employer being ordered to pay severance allowance multiplied by up to a factor of six times.

Second is the issue of interest on various payment being sought at 10% per annum.

The legal counsel representing the State submitted that the usual Supreme Court rate is 5% per annum.

On the first issue, the lawyer representing the Claimant sought the highest multiplication be applied.

The mandatory aspect of section 56(4) of the Employment Act is that the Court must make a decision as to whether the severance allowance be multiplied by up to a factor of six times, the Court states that it is not mandatory that the Court must impose the highest multiplier.

The claim for a high multiplier effect based on the fact that Mr Tarilongi was a long serving employee, who served the government for 26 years; he was dismissed on the pretext of previously disproved allegations; the State disclosed Tarilongi’s dismissal to the Daily Post and Radio Pacific Island Report, which affected his reputation; the State treated Tarilongi without care; Tarilongi suffered financial in many ways as a result of his wrongful dismissal; Tarilongi’s family suffered stress and anxiety and the former director has been unable to secure new employment.

The interest was then fixed at 5% per annum from October 15, 2018 when the assessment of damages was filed in the Supreme Court, as there was no basis to award interest at the highest rate.

The Supreme Court arrived at the end result that the severance allowance be multiplied by 3, pursuant to section 56(4) of the Act to take into account special damage occasioned to Mr Tarilongi that is not adequately reflected in the bare severance allowance.

The State was ordered to pay Tarilongi Vt207,591 additional severance payment as well as Vt25,401 outstanding VNPF contributions.

The severance allowance total is Vt10.7 million plus Vt207,591 is a total of Vt11,007,360. The final figure, which is the sum, multiplied by 3 is Vt33,022,080.

Interest on the amount owing, totaling Vt33 million is fixed at 5% per annum from October 15, 2018.

A conference has been scheduled by the Supreme Court at 1.30pm on May 7, 2020 to ensure the judgment has been executed or for the judgment debtor to explain how it intends to pay the judgment debt.