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NDP teachers paid gratuities

NDP teachers paid gratuities
Addison ‘Bash’ Thomas (left), and Kenroy Johnson

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Two of the teachers who had to resign from the public service in order to contest the 2010 general elections on a New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket but were never rehired; have, after a long court battle, been paid their gratuities.

Oswald Robinson, President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Teachers’ Union (SVGTU), which has been supporting the three teachers in their fight, confirmed to SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, December 2, that gratuities have been paid to Addison ‘Bash’ Thomas, and Kenroy Johnson.

The final teacher of the trio who resigned in 2010 is Elvis Daniel, who has yet to reach retirement age.

“It’s good that the Teachers’ Union once again would have achieved one of its objectives and that is to ensure that there is socio-economic justice for its members,” the President commented.

He informed that the gratuities were paid a few weeks ago.

“These brothers would have waited for a very long time and I want to congratulate them that they would have received their gratuity,” Robinson noted.

“However, there is still outstanding monies, in terms of their salary when they were not paid all those years when they were not receiving any salary. That is very important.

“Also we’re looking forward that they would be getting their pension, because those two brothers, they have reached the pensionary age.”

On the subject of whether there is any indication that a pension will be paid, the Union man noted “That is something that we have to investigate, but the relevant authorities ought to write to these gentlemen and to inform them as to their pension.”

In 2010, the teachers relied on a Collective Bargaining Agreement that had been signed between them and the Government in 2005. Article 16 of this Agreement states “a member of the Union of at least three years standing shall, on application, be granted leave-of-absence to contest national/general/local election. The leave of absence shall be no pay leave 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 the equivalent status, all benefits intact.”

The three teachers applied for leave, but were indirectly denied it by being referred to the Constitution, specifically s26 (d). This section outlines that no person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a Representative if he holds or is acting in any public office.

They reapplied after being unsuccessful at the elections, but were told that there were no vacancies.

Therefore, a long court battle ensued, with lawyers Jomo Thomas, Shirlan ‘Zita’ Barnwell, and a Grenadian lawyer, Ruggles Ferguson, at the helm for the Union and the teachers.

Robinson, in speaking to SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday, commended them “for fighting a very important battle” and protecting the teachers’ right to property.

In January 2019, the Court of Appeal, as outlined in their ruling, came to the conclusion that article 16 of the Collective Agreement does not violate section 26(1)(d) of the constitution; there was a legitimate expectation created that they would be reinstated after contesting the elections according to the agreement, and the teachers had been deprived of their fundamental right to property.

The teachers had claimed that the Government’s failure to repost them to their original post or one of equivalent status robbed them of benefits, most importantly their pension.

The Court of Appeal Justices held that they were entitled to an assessment of damages for that breach of their property right.

Costs were also to be paid.

However, the Union, in a press conference held in late October, submitted that the state had refused to comply with the order. Further, a private citizen cannot apply for an enforcement against the state.

“I know that our lawyers would have been writing the attorney general’s office several letters, and based on our advocacy, from the level of the Union, and the robust approach of our lawyers those are the reasons why the Government had no choice but to pay the gratuity,” Robinson explained on Wednesday.

He noted that the awarding of the gratuities was a victory for the Union, the workers, and a victory for St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“I’m glad that that part of the battle is over, and that the other benefits that these brothers should have, that they would fall in line, and that we wouldn’t have to go back to court again or put up any other form of social action to press the Government,” the President said.

Legal fees amounting to $53,000 that came out of the Union’s pocket are still outstanding.

Lastly, Robinson congratulated Shevern Lewis-John, a former teacher who recently became a Senator in the House of Assembly on the side of the New Democratic Party(NDP). Lewis-John also had to resign in order to contest the 2020 general elections.

Further, he congratulated now Minister of Education Curtis King, who is also a member of the Union, and now a Member of Parliament, and the Representative for West St George.