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Strike went against constitution of SVGTU – First Vice-President

Strike went against constitution of SVGTU – First Vice-President


First Vice-President of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) Sheldon Govia did not take part in the industrial action organized by the SVGTU and the Public Service Union (PSU) because, in his opinion, the process leading up to the decision for the strike went against the constitution of the SVGTU.{{more}}

Early this week, Govia circulated a letter expressing his disapproval with the unions’ decision to strike on October 3, in protest of the Government’s decision not to grant public servants a one-month tax-free salary in lieu of no salary increase for four years.

In the letter which was also circulated via social media, Govia said that the SVGTU and PSU met in November 2014 to discuss financial benefits for members, “after we sacrificed three years without a salary increase and was moving into a fourth year.”

At this meeting, there were three proposals, the first one being that they ask the Government for one month’s salary tax-free; a second proposal that they ask for half month salary tax-free and a third proposal for half month’s salary for Grades J and above and one month for below Grade J.

Govia said in his letter that in December 2014, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves had called the unions to a meeting where the financial situation in the country was outlined and they decided to submit the third proposal orally. He said that the PM asked them to do so in writing, but the executive met and decided that they should submit the first proposal.

It was reported by Govia that they met with the PM again in April 2015 and the PM said that the proposal would cost the Government EC$25 million and that he would meet with the unions once again after the second quarter, “to see if it is possible to make the payment”.

Govia said in his letter that the unions were called again in July 2015 and the Prime Minister said that he would not be able to pay either the one month or the half month salary proposal and, “I told the Prime Minister that we cannot tell our members that we getting nothing. This was supported by other union members at the meeting.”

The first vice-president said that the PM suggested that they meet again but they responded by saying that they were not coming to another meeting “to hear he cannot pay; instead, he should see what he can offer, then call us after the third quarter, by the end of October, to let us know.”

Govia related that after that meeting, the SVGTU executive met and suggested that they visit schools to inform members. He said they visited the Marriaqua branch and were to continue visits, but this was objected to by president of the SVGTU Oswald Robinson.

Govia said that the SVGTU had its usual branch day on September 2 and informed members of the proposal.

“The meeting started with less than 50 members, then reached 50 and had less than 50 in the end. Thirty of the teachers present came from the Grenadines, 12 from Southern Grenadines and 18 from the Northern Grenadines – passage paid by the union.”

The letter circulated by Govia claims that at that meeting Philbert John presented a resolution calling on the executive to “engage in all necessary action to bring national, regional and international attention to the situation and that the SVGTU calls on the Government to favourably consider the union’s demand”.

According to Govia, the resolution was not put to a vote and during the meeting some members were calling for industrial action, but the executive members realized that they did not have a mandate at this meeting, “to accept such call.”

“Therefore no decision was taken at this meeting to have industrial action”, said Govia in his letter, adding, “the resolution also asks the executive to engage in all necessary action to bring national, regional and international attention to the situation, not to break the laws of the organization.”

Govia said that two branch meetings on September 4 and September 18 had very poor attendance and the president called a meeting with the PSU on September 21 and at that meeting, “we decided that both executives should began (sic) by picketing parliament the next sitting, in black. I made it clear that I will not be in black in hot sun.”

Govia said that he left for St Lucia on September 27 and on October 7, he received a WhatsApp message from the president saying ‘we striking next Tuesday’ and “I later found out that no general meeting was held, therefore no mandate was given.”

Govia pointed out in the letter that the union’s constitution article 4.2.1 says that the national general meeting shall be the supreme authority, not a branch meeting.

“The decision for taking industrial action was made at a meeting of the SVGTU and PSU executives on 7th October, 2015. Not a general meeting!” said Govia’s letter, adding, “if we allowed this to happen, it means that 5 members (which is a quorum) of the SVGTU executive can meet with any other executive in this country and decide to take any industrial action without the mandate from the general body at a General Meeting. This has never happened before and the constitution does not allow it.”

The letter said that as a result of this, four members of the executive did not follow “such unconstitutional decision”: first vice-president Sheldon Govia, general secretary Margaret Jackson, assistant general secretary Jane Farrell and committee member Maxford Jones. Four members decided to go along with the decision: president Oswald Robinson, second vice-president Kent Cain, public relations officer Wendy Bynoe and committee member Sharon Doyle.

Govia said that on October 16, during an executive meeting, an emergency general meeting was called to deal with members who did not support the decision to strike.

He encouraged members of the SVGTU, “please look out for the announcement of the emergency general meeting and be there to defend our union’s constitution.”

In response to Govia’s letter, PRO of the SVGTU Wendy Bynoe said that the SVGTU views with concern the letter being circulated by Govia and the letter should not be treated as an official communication from the Union.

“We consider the letter to be disingenuous to say the least and does not give true and accurate account of the issue under consideration,” said Bynoe.

She described Govia’s letter as reckless and in clear violation of the structure of the Union.(LC)