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Despite court ruling, NDP teachers still waiting to be paid

Despite court ruling, NDP teachers still waiting to be paid
Lawyer Shirlan ‘Zita’ Barnwell speaking at a SVGTU press conference last Thursday.

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The legal team of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union (SVGTU) says the Government has so far refused to honour a January 2019 court ruling to pay, costs, damages and pension benefits to three disenfranchised teachers.

“What it is that we are talking about here has to do with the Government’s failure, or the Government’s refusal to actually abide or comply with the court order and basically there is no rule of law,” lawyer Shirlan ‘Zita’ Barnwell explained at a SVGTU press conference last Thursday.

Despite court ruling, NDP teachers still waiting to be paid
Addison Thomas (left) and Kenroy Johnson

Elvis Daniel, Addison Thomas, and Kenroy Johnson had all been teachers for over 30 years when they decided to resign in order to contest the general elections of 2010 on a New Democratic Party (NDP) ticket.

A Collective Agreement signed between the Union and the Government in 2005 contained an article, 16, which 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 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.”

However, when the teachers applied for “election leave” in 2010, they were referred to s 26 (d) of the Constitution that says that no person shall be qualified to be elected or appointed as a representative if he holds or is acting in any public office.

Therefore, the teachers resigned, and once unsuccessful at the polls in 2010, the three attempted to be reinstated, but were told that there were no vacancies.

Court of Appeal Justice Davidson Kelvin Baptiste delivered the court’s ruling in 2019.

The Justices 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 they had been deprived of their fundamental right to property.

Barnwell mentioned that Johnson became eligible for his pension in the same year as the elections. “You’re talking about a period based on the court’s award that he ought to have gotten his pension at least at a minimum from 2012 to 2020. That is how long this man has been without his rights being honoured,” Barnwell noted.

Despite court ruling, NDP teachers still waiting to be paid
Elvis Daniel

 

Since the court’s award of damages, costs, the lawyers have been in contact with the Attorney General’s chambers, Barnwell relayed, but this year their contact was reduced to written communication.

“As we are not seeing anything happening, by April 6, the first letter for this year was written to the Attorney General (AG) asking the Attorney General to please comply or at least begin the process to comply with the court’s order,” the counsel recalled.

Two months after this letter, they received a response which stated “We will look into the matter and respond to you soonest.”

“By the way, this is since more than a year later that the AG by our nudging is saying they will look into the matter,” the counsel commented, adding “I mean the judgment is clear.”

“This is a breach of constitutional rights, this is not any ordinary issue, so it really is difficult to comprehend why in any way a Government, that is a Labour Government, would not comply with a court order that simply says you have violated these three teachers’ rights,” the counsel contemplated.

Furthermore, a High Court judge who was given the task of assessing the costs that the state must pay has fixed the costs at around $53,000.

This was in January of this year, and the lawyers took pains to ask for a deadline for the paying of this sum, which was set at February 14.

“It is now October 2020 and we have made several requests, pleadings, to the state, also without any avail, there’s no response that is positive to say, at least, they would make any attempt to pay that too,” the lawyer informed.

Now the situation seems to be at an impasse, as a private citizen cannot in law apply for an enforcement against the crown.

“You basically are waiting on the state’s good faith to do so (honour the ruling),” Barnwell stated.

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