We have been vindicated – Johnson
“We were not foolish. We were simply exercising our rights,” declared Kenroy Johnson on Tuesday, following his long-awaited victory at the Court of Appeal.
Johnson, an educator who has had to spend the last eight years unemployed and battling through the court, revealed his feelings at a press conference held at the headquarters of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU).
After last week’s ruling of the Court of Appeal that the agreement relied on by Johnson and two other colleagues, Elvis Daniel and Addison Thomas, who all resigned their jobs with government to contest general elections for the New Democratic Party(NDP), and were not rehired, was indeed constitutional; the Educator stated that they have been vindicated.
“I can smile a bit now, in that I can say that we have been vindicated,” Johnson said.
He recalled that there were those who said that he was foolish for resigning just two years before retirement age.
Johnson, who taught for 39 years before he resigned his post of Principal of the Georgetown Secondary School, said, “I must reiterate here that I took the decision, and when I decided to take up the challenge as a candidate, I did so on the basis of what I thought was the strength of the collective agreement between the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union and the Government. I trusted the agreement.”
He said that he remembered when the agreement was boasted as “very progressive and revolutionary,” and so, “I trusted it. I had no doubt in it.”
However, despite the victory, which will see the three teachers getting pension benefits and monetary damages for breach of their constitutional property rights, the eight years since 2010 have not been easy for Johnson, who is “way past retirement age.”
“I actually felt very hopeless in this situation. The judge ruled that it was (at the lower court) and I felt that way, and that is because of the sort of atmosphere in which this whole thing evolved…what was said from political platforms, and what people were saying on call in programs, it was as if I found myself in a very deep, dark tunnel, and the past eight years have been very difficult…,” he revealed.
“There were even those crazy moments, when I felt that I’d let down my family, my daughters, my wife,” he admitted, and that he had grandchildren he couldn’t buy anything for.
The former Principal noted that his problems in those years were “bread and butter issues”, “I had to scale down on my standard of living…We couldn’t shop as well as we used to before, we couldn’t eat as well as we used to before.”
He had to move from an income of over $6000 to no income, and said that the family leaned on his wife’s job, and at times, friends to supported them. There was a point when they received “a small allowance” from the NDP.
“I never dreamt that my career, which I was very proud of, would end this way. That night, I still remember it, I cried for hours and since then I’ve been carrying much emotional pain, it has been very hard,” he recalled.
Thomas, who has not yet reached retirement age, expressed, alongside Johnson, that they were grateful to the SVGTU, and the legal team that had championed their case through court. Forming this team were lawyers Ruggles Fergusson, Shirlan ‘Zita’ Barnwell, and Jomo Thomas.
“I share similar experiences to Mr Johnson, it wasn’t easy, it was real tough, and let me say up front, had it not been for Article 16 of that Collective Agreement, I would not have entered politics as a candidate for South Central Windward, even though the community was calling for me to go forward. I would not have done that had it not been for article 16 of the collective agreement,” Thomas expressed.
The former primary school teacher stated that he feels that they have won, and that this is the end.
This is supposedly in reference to the fact that the Respondents in the case may choose to appeal the decision.
However, Barnwell, who was also present, stated that the lawyers had not been served any documents saying that the respondents had filed an appeal.
Daniel, Thomas and Johnson, all educators exceeding 30 years in the service and members of the SVGTU, relied on Article 16 of a Collective Bargaining Agreement between their Union and the Government formed in 2005.
This article allows teachers of three years or more, no pay leave of absence for up to six months, to contest elections, and reinstatement to their original post or one of equivalent status with all benefits intact, if they are unsuccessful.
When the three teachers wrote for this leave in 2010 they were impliedly denied it, as held by the Court of Appeal. The Public Service Commission (PSC) at the time sent them s26 (1) d of the constitution in response to their request.
This section bars public servants, among others, from contesting for elections.
Therefore, with nomination day nigh, they resigned. They were unsuccessful, and were not rehired.
Last Tuesday, Justice Kelvin Baptiste of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court(ECSC) reversed a decision of the lower court which concluded that the ‘NDP teachers’ case as “entirely hopeless” because of s26 of the constitution.
In reversing the lower court decision, the Court of Appeal also held that the Government was unfair to frustrate the legitimate expectation that was created by the agreement they entered, and held by the trio in relation to the agreement.
Further it was noted that the Government acted unfairly by not engaging Parliament to create the exceptions to the disqualification as is allowed for in the same section that they relied on to deny the expectation.