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Step up to the plate in defending Otto!


Fri May 24, 2013

Editor: When you are looking around the region, trade unionism and the fight for workers rights remain vibrant and relevant in most Caribbean countries. A few months ago, the teachers’ union in Trinidad and Tobago (TTUTA) staged several days of reflection; in effect, a protest action by its members, who stayed away from their jobs for two days in a wage dispute with the government.{{more}} Similarly, the civil service union staged several strikes in refusing that government’s wage offer.

When one examines the level of trade unionism representation and relevance to the struggle of workers in this country, the same cannot be said. It is the view of many Vincentians that union bosses here are guided by their personal interests and are beholden to a government that mutes their actions with promises of promotion in the public sector. We often see teachers’ union presidents being elevated to the post of principal, a reward for their deceitfulness, reticence and the wholesale sell out of workers’ rights, when dealing with the Government. That is the reason why it is not hard to understand why the three teachers who contested the last general elections are not re-employed up to this day.

However, the dismissal of Otto Sam presents the Teachers’ Union with a golden opportunity to redeem its image in the eyes of many disgruntled teachers. It will reinvigorate a sense of hope and purpose among teachers if the union were to stand steadfast with a stalwart in a fight for the rights of a teacher who has been flagrantly politically victimized because of his public difference with the “maximum leader.”

Otto Sam may have been rash and brash in some of his articles in condemning the “maximum leader”. However, that should not be a deterrent to the teachers’ and civil service unions in spearheading the fight for justice for Otto Sam.

Anyone with foresight can weigh the balance of proportional treatment meted out to someone who supports the government or not. For instance, a “civil servant” who made disparaging remarks about a cooperative in the public domain, which nearly led to its financial collapse, went scot-free without rebuke or sanctions imposed by the Service Commission.

Hence, it is the moral duty of the teachers’ and civil service unions to make a stand against the flagrant abuse and victimization of public sector workers in this country. They could look back to the many instances where civil servants and other workers were pursued and victimized relentlessly by this government, without a murmur or protestation, hence, the need to act now. The chief librarian was transferred to the Community College because it was alleged that her husband was a chief critic of the government on the daily talk shows. Andrew Simmons, a community worker and environmental activist, was denied a job at the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization because the Government failed to give their blessing as required for such jobs. And a cleaner at a school was summarily dismissed in the countryside after a “run-in” with the “political Don”.

The actions of these unions and Otto Sam himself can be guided by precedents in other Caribbean countries, where such injustice and victimization by the Government have been challenged in the Court of Law. For instance, in Trinidad and Tobago, two civil servants were overlooked for promotion, which they contested in the Court of Law and succeeded. More recently, a junior officer successfully won a litigation brought against his superior in the Court of Law. In another instance, the Attorney General’s office was investigating whether charges could have been brought against members of the previous Government on the grounds of discrimination in awarding educational scholarships to their own political supporters. So, one can argue that all is not lost in this country. The Chief Personnel Officer and members of the Civil Service Board can be made to answer for their actions, long after they have demitted office.

In the case of Otto Sam, many questions can be asked. On what basis and rationale was a trained and experienced teacher and principal transferred to NEMO, where he had no training in disaster management and virtually had no work to do on a daily basis? Were the Chief Personnel Officer and the Service Commission Board derelict in their duties in assigning Otto Sam to NEMO in the first place?

When such litigation is taken, in the future, senior personnel in the civil service and board members on various parastatal organizations will realize that they are there to serve the interest of the state and not just surrogates of their political boss.