Thursday, July 13, 2006

Huuuulllloooooooo

Many of you may be wondering about what happened with me, the CCMA and the Jockey Club (NHRA). Now that the dust has settled, the mists have cleared, and my cheque is safely in the bank, I can report the following:
At the end of 2005 I presented the Jockey Club with my new rates for 2006. They weren't too happy about them, and failed to discuss the matter or negotiate any different rates.
Because I needed the money, I carried on working there in January anyway, and my (partial) January invoice was paid without a problem. What I didn't know was that they were deliberately avoiding discussion of my rates because they were planning to can the project anyway. In their Annual Report 2005 page 15 it states:
Currently the [Audit, Risk and Finance] Committee is evaluating a proposal from Phumelela and Gold Circle to outsource the accounting, data processing/ information technology and handicapping functions of the NHRA. A detailed report will be submitted to the National Board at a meeting to be held on 25 November 2005, where we are hoping to reach finality on these issues.
Very few employees even got to see the Annual Report, let alone read it.
On 2nd February we were told that the project was cancelled, and the functions of the department would be "outsourced". By that stage I had worked over 5 years on the project, and been paid R 1 007 600, and the project was in the final stages of going live. We were actually transferring the data while the meeting was in progress. The entire department was in shell shock for days.
A few days later I presented Colin Hall with an invoice for the balance of my fees for January (i.e. the increase) and the increased rate for February. He signed it and I handed it in for payment, never suspecting that payment would be stopped.
I then presented him with an invoice for the balance of the contract, at which point he exploded and tried to say that there wasn't one. I asked him to put his point in writing. Even though his subsequent letter was confusing if not totally meaningless, it emerged from further discussions that all they were prepared to pay me was R 38 400, i.e 2 months at R 19 200. However, by the end of February they had still paid me nothing.
On the day I was supposed to be paid by the Jockey Club, I contacted my former head of department, Peter Hains, to find out if he had been paid. He had. He also had a problem with the existing configuration of DataMover, which wasn't working. I told him that until I was paid I was not going to provide any support. Lawyer's letters were threatened, and I told them to go ahead and send me the letter, which I promptly published on my blog. I wrote a lot of other stuff on my blog, describing the general working environment, the hypocrisy, arrogance and incompetence of some of the managers, and my experiences in general.
In Mid February I started working full time for Men's Clinic International, and at the end of February they very generously paid me for a full month. They have been paying me every month since then, on a month-by-month basis.
I also went to the CCMA, on the basis that I was effectively an employee, rather than a contractor, because of the length of service and other criteria defined by the Labour Relations Act. My hearing was set, and the Jockey Club failed to show up. I was feeling a lot more confident, but my own application was my undoing, since I hadn't justified why I should be regarded as an employee. They rules it was a contractual matter, and therefore outside of their jurisdiction.
At that point I had to decide whether to take the matter to court, or to try to settle amicably. Because of all my blogging activity, writing about both the lawyer and his client, a Google search of "nigel carman" or "colin hall nhra" produced some extremely unflattering results.
I decided to try one last time to get my invoice paid, so I wrote to both the lawyer and the Jockey Club and asked them when they planned to pay my outstanding (signed) invoice. I also mentioned the Google search. That finally spurred them on to some form of action. To keep up the pressure I randomly faxed the signed unpaid invoice to their fax number every day or so.
In early June I got a letter from them, plus a cheque. The condition of depositing the cheque was that I would have no other claim against them. After giving it some further thought, and discussing it with a few close friends, I responded by saying that if they wanted me to accept the cheque then they would make no further claims against me. It was a good job that I did this, because their response states:
Our client agrees to the following: the cheque for R38 400,00 is tendered in full and final settlement of all claims of any nature whatsoever which either party may have against the other, whether for work actually done during February, notice period, damages or howsoever arising on condition that you remove all references to this firm or to the NHRA from your website or any other Internet presence.
They obviously didn't like the blog entries, or the fact that I had published their threatening letter as an example of extreme stupidity in dealing with programs where the source code is included. They were obviously embarrassed that their heavy-handed tactics became public knowledge, especially since their stated goal is "maintaining the integrity of the sport of horseracing" [sic] and their actions hardly lent any credibility to that goal. So all past blog entries have been removed, and the other documents removed, and the money is safely in my bank account, providing a buffer in case I get gaps between projects.
I hope the lawyers sent a very large bill to the Jockey Club, because I had sent them numerous emails, made several phone calls, requested explanations and clarifications, and generally gave them as much work as possible. I hope they got paid for it.
I am working hard on the Men's Clinic project, and have some smaller projects in the pipeline. I am also working on a means by which other people can use the database technology that I do, to be able to produce databases that work well without the usual overhead of months and months of tedious programming.

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