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Justice’s words would not be the last word on teachers’ matter – Jomo Thomas

Justice’s words would not be the last word on teachers’ matter – Jomo Thomas

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Lawyer and Speaker of the House of Assembly Jomo Thomas believes that the decision by the Public Service Commission not to re-employ three teachers who ran for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in 2010 was politically motivated.{{more}}

Thomas, who contested the South Leeward constituency for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP) in the last general elections,voiced this opinion on Boom FM last Monday, February 15, following the rejection by the court of a claim filed by three teachers against the Government.

Although he conceded that the ruling that was recently handed down by Justice Brian Cottle of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court was a “very reasoned opinion,” Thomas asserted that there have been previous instances where teachers were allowed to take no-pay leave to contest elections and were reinstated after being unsuccessful in such.

He did not name specific cases, but added that these instances took place under both the Unity Labour Party and New Democratic Party administrations.

“I believe that politics enters into it. I don’t believe… that there is really any reason, apart from the fact that these people ran for the Opposition, why they were not re-employed,” insisted Thomas.

Additionally, he said that the Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed by the Government and the SVG Union of Teachers, in 2005, should have been “honoured to the letter”, and as such this may work in the teachers’ favour should they decide to appeal.

“It is now for the Teachers’ Union, who carried the case, to decide whether they want to appeal the case… I do believe that Justice Cottle’s words would not be the last words on this matter. Remember this is a first-instance case – they can appeal to the Court of Appeal, and whichever way the court rules, the losing side may decide to appeal even to the Privy Council.”

Moreover, Thomas said: “The Government decided not to follow the agreement, pointing to the Constitution. The arguments that were made in the case was that if we take a broad reading of the Constitution, which Justice Cottle seemed not to want to go to, that we could have a reading which says that the Constitution need not be implicated.”

He added that Justice Cottle took the literal meaning of Section 26 (1) (d) of the Constitution, which says that public servants cannot retain their posts while contesting general elections.

“Technically, because the teacher was on non-paying leave… there could have been an exception to the strict reading of the Constitution. That’s not a position that Justice Cottle took.”

Thomas firmly believes that had the three teachers been reinstated after the December 13, 2010 elections, it would have “set a precedent”, and been the benchmark for future matters of this nature.

“However the case is [finally] resolved, it settles… what should be the position as it relates to this clause with the Teachers’ Union or any other such clause that may come up in the future.”

Thomas further mused that this particular case strikes him as “strange” because it is usually citizens who use the Constitution as a shield “against what may be perceived as government excesses.”

“In this case, it is the Government that is using the Constitution as a shield against an agreement in which it got involved.”

He also expressed that he is unhappy with this ruling, because it doesn’t allow for the “proper development of the polity.”

“The public service is the institution that has some of the most educated people in the country; and if you lock off all of them from political public service, then you are actually doing a disservice to the democracy that you are trying to build. In that sense, I believe people should be able to opt in and out.”

The three teachers – Elvis Daniel, Addison Thomas and Kenroy Johnson – were represented in the matter by Grenadian Ruggles Fergusson and Shirlan Barnwell, who is a member of Jomo Thomas’s law firm. The defendants were the Public Service Commission and the Attorney General, who were represented by Richard Williams.(JSV)