Public servants wanting to contest elections still in a bind
As it stands, St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) does not have any laws that allow public servants to participate in elections without any loss of benefit.
Attorney Shirlan ‘Zita’ Barnwell drew attention to this point at a press conference jointly hosted by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union(SVGTU) and the Public Service Union(PSU) this Tuesday.
Despite their securing the “groundbreaking” judgment from the Court of Appeal last week which ruled that article 16 of a Collective Bargaining Agreement signed between the SVGTU and the Government was constitutional, Barnwell notes that it is for Parliament to pass the necessary legislation.
“I’ve heard people say, why is it that the Union couldn’t do anything, maybe all they can do is mobilize people to push the Government in the right direction,” Barnwell commented.
“At the end of the day it’s Parliament who has to create the necessary legislation to ensure that all public servants can participate in general elections without loss of any benefit, as it stands now, we have no such laws,” she stated.
The Court of Appeal held that article 16 which allows for six months no paid leave in order to allow teachers who have served for a certain time to contest elections, and allows them to return their original post if unsuccessful, deals only with leave. It does not qualify persons to be elected representatives.
“Here is leave, it doesn’t say that you can sit in the House, it just gives you leave, whatever happens after that is not the concern of article 16,” Barnwell indicated, speaking about this judgment.
Beyond this matter, exceptions to the constitutional rule in section 26 can only be enshrined in law by Parliament, as stipulated by the constitution.
“So when you ask the question as to whether anybody else can run and use article 16, yes they can use article 16, it would be good to test to see what the state is going to do. Is the state going to point again back to section 26 (1) d, and say look there make up your mind what you wanna do. Or is the state going to say, hmm, maybe for the next election what we need to do in proper good faith this time, is create the legislation that overrides that,” she noted.
The lawyer, who represented along with attorneys Ruggles Ferguson and Jomo Thomas for former teachers Elvis Daniel, Addison Thomas and Kenroy Johnson, noted that she hoped the Court of Appeal judgment would resonate with the public service in its importance. Further, that they would understand that if they want to run for elections, they need to bring this to the Government.