Teachers’ Union President happy with High Court ruling
December 20, 2013
Teachers’ Union President happy with High Court ruling

President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union Oswald Robinson has welcomed the decision by the court to dismiss an application made by Government,{{more}} to strike out a case brought by three teachers who resigned their positions to contest the 2010 general elections.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, one day after Justice Gertel Thom made the ruling, Robinson said that the decision was a victory and that he was very pleased.

He added that the ruling was important, especially since the funds being used to pay for the legal representation of Elvis Daniel, Addison “Bash” Thomas and Kenroy Johnson came from the general membership of the union.

“As the president of the teachers’ union, I could really see the benefits, because when you put people’s money to something and it doesn’t work out, it gets back to you and it creates doubt in the minds of the membership,” he said.

He said that he was confident that the union had done the right thing in taking the matter to the court.

“We are just waiting now to see what is going to happen and we are looking forward to the date with great anticipation,” Robinson continued.

He said it is of great importance that the union remained united on the issue.

“It’s not because the guys are on a different [side of the] political fence [from] some of the others. We have to put the political differences aside — it’s a matter of justice,” he said.

The president explained that it is more a matter of justice, because it is not easy for the three affected to serve for more than 30 years and then in the end, have their pension rights interfered with.

“It’s very sad and a lot of people do not really fully understand and appreciate what these members are going through,” he said.

“The guys are really at a disadvantage and we can’t look at it as though they belong to the NDP (New Democratic Party), we have to look at them as members and we have to look out for our members regardless of which side they are on.”

According to Robinson, the political affiliation of members is of no concern to him.

“I do not get into that,” he said.

“I am not going to defame or disrespect anybody in authority, because if you want to gain respect, then you have to demonstrate it and being president of the union, one which has had a rich history of struggles, you have to set good standards of representation otherwise people will get rid of you.”

Justice Thom on Monday rejected a request made by the State, the respondent in the case, for the case to be dismissed, after the request was made earlier this year.

Thomas, Daniel and Johnson resigned their teaching positions to contest the general elections held in 2010, a requirement under the Constitution.

However, Article 16 of the Collective Agreement signed in 2005 between the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines and the SVG Teachers’ Union states that “a member of the Union of at least three years standing, shall on application, be granted leave-of-absence to contest National/General/Local Elections. The leave of absence shall be no pay for a period not exceeding six months. In the event that the member is unsuccessful, that member shall return to his/her original post or one of equivalent status, all benefits intact. The resumption of the duty must be at the beginning of a school term.”

The three men all lost at the polls, and were never reinstated.

Lawyer for the State Richard Williams, in a submission to the court earlier this year, argued that the claimants, having already resigned, cannot compel the defendants to re-instate them to their original teaching posts. He submitted that it is only the Parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines, by two thirds in the House, which can permit a public officer to be eligible to be elected as a representative. He further noted that it is only Parliament that can permit public officers to contest elections.

Williams described Article 16 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement as “unfortunate,” as it directly contravenes the entrenched provisions of the Constitution.

“Article 16, in its clear meaning and reading, amounts to the exercise of power by the Executive, which it does not have,” he said.

According to Williams, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has been given the sole right, by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution, to determine who it appoints to the public service. He said the claimants’ affidavits reflect, that on re-application to the public service, the PSC said that there were no vacancies at the time. (DD)