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Article 16 of Agreement of 2005 was “aspirational” – PM

Article 16 of Agreement of 2005 was “aspirational” – PM

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The inclusion of Article 16 in the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) Collective Bargaining Agreement of 2005 was “aspirational”,{{more}} because there was the expectation that changes would have been made to this country’s constitution reform package.

In fact, according to Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, many aspects of collective bargaining are aspirational.

Gonsalves, speaking on a radio call in programme on WE FM on Sunday, responded to remarks made by Ronald Clarke, President of the SVGTU, relating to Article 16 of the collective bargaining agreement which pertains to election leave.

Clarke was at the time responding to a comment made by Clayton Burgin, Minister of Housing, during a Unity Labour Party rally, regarding the rehiring of three teachers who resigned their posts to run for the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in the December 2010 General Elections.

The teachers were unsuccessful in their election bids, and despite calls from several quarters, have not been rehired by the government.

Article 16 of the Agreement, which was signed with government, however, states that a member of the Union of at least three years’ standing shall be granted leave of absence to contest General Elections.

It continues that if the member is unsuccessful in his or her bid for public office that member should be returned to their original post or one of equivalent status with all benefits intact.

“I want to believe that when this (collective bargaining) agreement was negotiated and when it was signed, it was done in good faith,” Clarke stated at a press conference on Monday, November 8.

However, Gonsalves made the point that a person could not get election leave unless they resigned and that the post is not kept for the individual.

“The post is filled in the normal manner,” Gonsalves said.

This position was expressed to Elvis Daniel, one of the three affected teachers, the prime minister said.

Gonsalves added that he made calls on behalf of Daniel to the Community College and the Ministry of Education to see if there were any relevant vacancies; however, the prime minister maintains that no one will agree that such individuals be put in a preferable position over those who chose to remain inside.

“A lot of aspects of collective bargaining is aspirational, … and that you couldn’t get election leave unless you resigned,” Gonsalves explained, adding that this was explained to Daniel.

“When you resign the post is not kept for you,” he continued.

“We all expected the constitutional changes to pass, and that was part of the constitutional package,” he said.

According to Gonsalves, what is ironic, was that the very people who opposed the constitutional reform package, which included that change, are now relying on a provision in the collective bargaining agreement, which according to him, everyone knew was aspirational and put there, in the context that there was the intention to work towards it.

“But you obviously can’t work towards it now, because the constitutional reform process was defeated; so I don’t see how this can appear again, in any collective bargaining agreement, because to do so, would be to have no opportunity to effect it, because it is in the Constitution that in order to be a candidate in the election, you can’t be a public servant,” the prime minister said.

The present constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines disqualifies public officers from being elected as parliamentary representatives. Interestingly, the Constitutional Bill 2009, which was rejected by the electorate on November 25, 2009, also disqualifies public officers from being elected as parliamentary representatives.

One legal expert, closely associated with the constitution reform process, told SEARCHLIGHT that had the 2009 Constitution passed, the intention was to enact separate legislation to make the rehiring of teachers who resigned to contest elections mandatory, if they were unsuccessful in their election bid.

Gonsalves, however, said that neither he, nor the government, have any objection to the teachers being rehired, but he reiterated his position that he did not want to be asked to get involved in the matter, because he was in no position to interfere with the duties of the Public Service Commission.

He said that by virtue of the Constitution he determined positions such as that of permanent secretaries, ambassadorial positions and the Commissioner of Police. (DD)

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