The lawyer whose chambers handled the case that the Teachers’ Union brought against the government over the 2005 collective agreement believes that the union can triumph at appeal.
High Court Judge Justice Brian Cottle last Wednesday ruled as “entirely hopeless” a claim by the Teachers’ Union that an article of the Collective Bargaining Agreement it signed with the Government in 2005 does not contravene Section 26(1)(d) of the Constitution of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), as the Government later claimed.
“When I consider the competing arguments as well as my understanding of the governing legal principles, I am driven to the conclusion that the claimants cannot succeed. It may we be that the present constitutional provision are too restrictive and some of provisions along the lines of that set out in Article 16 of the Agreement is desirable,” Justice Brian Cottle wrote in a ruling.
The Public Service Commission has not rehired the three teachers — Elvis Daniel, Addison Thomas, and Kenroy Johnson — who retired their post in November 2010 to become candidates in the December 2010 general elections for the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).
The teachers had initially thought that the Collective Bargaining Agreement that the Ralph Gonsalves Government signed with their union allowed them leave to contest the post and to be re-hired if they lost.
The Government, however, later said that the applicable part of the agreement, Article 16, was unconstitutional.
Jomo Thomas, whose chambers handled the case on behalf of the teachers, said in comments on Facebook on Monday: “The case is not an NDP case although it so happens to involve 3 teachers who ran on an NDP ticket.
“The case has much broader constitutional importance and I hope and trust that ULP comrades and supporters will not see it as such.
“[I]f we do, then we are telling our country either our leaders did not know the Constitution when they signed the collective bargaining agreement with the Teachers’ Union or that worst, they played a trick on the workers to win their support and then jammed them with the law,” said Thomas, who became a Senator and a candidate for the ruling Unity Labour Party, and is now Speaker of the House of Assembly.
He, however, said that Cottle’s judgement is “a good, reasoned decision but this is only a first-instant decision.
“Justice Cottle did not accept the arguments presented by the claimants, but the court of appeal might. There is still some ways to go once the Teachers’ Union decide to take it further.
“The case is of such constitutional magnitude and holds out so much for the deepening of our democracy that I will be surprised if this case ends with justice Cottle’s decision,” Thomas said.
Shirlan Barnwell, a lawyer in Thomas’ chambers, along with Grenadian attorney Ruggles Fergusson, had actual carriage of the case.
Asked for her reaction to the judgement on Monday, Barnwell told iWitness News:
“I have not been able to meet and discuss the issue yet with the Teachers’ Union. And until such time, I can’t make a comment on it. We are supposed to meet sometime this week.”
Barnwell has since become a senator for the NDP.