The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union has expressed “dismay over the inordinate delay with respect to resolution” of two court matters affecting its members.
Wendy Bynoe, public relations officer of the union, said in a statement on Wednesday that the union was concerned about the pace with which the case involving Elvis Daniel, Addison Thomas, and Kenroy Johnson was moving through the courts.
The three were not rehired after contesting the December 2010 general elections on behalf of the opposition New Democratic Party.
She also said that Otto Sam, a past president of the SVGTU, “is also languishing at home after he was unceremoniously dismissed from his job”.
Bynoe outlined that in December 2010, Daniel, Thomas, and Johnson applied to the Public Service Commission for Election Leave in accordance with Article 16 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
She said the Public Service Commission directed the three teachers to resign their teaching jobs in order to contest the elections.
Article 16 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement says a member of the union of at least three years standing, shall on application, be granted leave of absence to contest national general and local elections.
The leave of absence shall be no-pay leave for a period not exceeding six months.
It further says that if that member does not win the election, he or she shall return to his/her original post or one of equivalent status, all benefits intact.
The resumption of duty must be the beginning of a school term, the article says.
“Article 16 is clear, a teacher needs not resign and where unsuccessful at the polls, that teacher can resume his/her job as a public servant,” Bynoe said.
Daniel, Thomas, and Johnson “obeyed the directive of the PSC five years ago,” the union spokesperson said.
She added that they were unsuccessful at the polls and re-applied for their substantive posts with the public service “but the State refused to honour the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and as a result these three teachers were forced into unemployment.
“The SVGTU views the response by the State as dastardly and an egregious injustice against not only the members of the Union but also against the citizens of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The State’s action sends the clear signal that Citizens cannot enjoy protection under the laws of this land and cannot rely on the State’s commitment to deepening of our democracy,” Bynoe said.
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who signed the collective agreement with the union on behalf of his government, has since said that segments of the said accord were “aspirational” since they were unconstitutional.
The union took the government to court, and, in ruling in December 2013, High Court judge, Justice Gertel Thom dismissed an application by the Government to strike out the case.
The judge further ordered the government to pay cost of $2,500.
Lawyer for the Teachers’ Union in the case, Jomo Thomas, who became a government senator after taking up the case, told I-Witness News then that the ruling is “an important preliminary victory for the claimants”.
A date for the preliminary hearing in the substantive matter is yet to be announced.
But Bynoe noted that almost five years has passed since the December 2010 election and three years since the first court hearing.
“Another election is soon due and this matter is still stuck in the court system. The administration of justice requires that litigation moves through our courts in a timely manner otherwise justice delayed is justice denied.
“In the circumstances it is clear that a speedy mechanism is required to bring this matter to resolution.
“In the meantime, our brothers languish in the desert of uncertainty. We, therefore, call upon the relevant authorities to act post haste and allow these three men to return to their jobs and pay them their emoluments retroactive to five years ago,” she said.
Thomas and Johnson are again candidate for the New Democratic Party in the next general elections, expected this year, ahead of the March 2016 constitutional deadline.
In the Otto Sam matter, Bynoe said that Sam was even “given a rather hasty transfer from the teaching profession to a job outside the sphere of his competencies”.
In 2010, Sam, an outspoken critic of the government, was transferred from his post as headmaster of the South Rivers Methodist School to the National Emergency Management Organisation.
The Public Service Commission tribunal and then the Public Service Appeal Board both ruled that Sam was properly dismissed.
Sam applied to the High Court to review that decision and Justice Thom ruled in February 2014 that the transfer was irrational and illegal.
Bynoe said the Teachers’ Union views the transfer and dismissal of Sam as “riddled with spite and punishment in response to a principled stance that he took while performing his task as a principal.
“The High Court found that this transfer was illegal and irrational. The State appealed the High Court’s decision. We now await the decision of the Court of Appeal,” she said, adding that the matter concerning Sam’s dismissal “has been dragging on for far too long”.
“Similar to our fellow teachers Addison Thomas, Kenroy Johnson and Elvis Daniel we are stuck in the slow wheels of justice and it appears that its slow grinding wheels have halted despite our best efforts.
“We are, therefore, imploring the appropriate body to quickly resolve this issue so that our colleague can return to work and continue to answer his vocation as an educator. Time is of essence: to have our dear brother, teacher, former president suffering at home is a tragedy and a national shame.
We intend to bring these two issues to the attention of the relevant international education bodies,” Bynoe said.