The three teachers, Kenroy Johnson, Elvis Daniel, and Addison “Bash” Thomas. (File photo)

The main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) has congratulated the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union on the High Court ruling, last week, which said that a contentious article of an agreement the union signed with the Unity Labour Party administration in 2005 is not unconstitutional, as the government had later claimed.

“… the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers Union (SVGTU) has been vindicated by the judgement of the OECS Court of Appeal when the judges declared that the election leave provision of the collective bargaining agreement that the Ralph Gonsalves government signed with the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Teachers’ Union in 2005 is not unconstitutional,” the NDP said in a press statement.

The party said it is “studying the judgement and will make further pronouncements in the future”.

The Teachers’ Union sued the government when they refused to rehire teachers Addison “Bash” Thomas, Kenroy Johnson, and Elvis Daniel who had contested — and lost — the 2010 election on behalf of the NDP.

“This refusal to rehire the teachers was contrary to longstanding practice and a collective agreement signed in 2005 by the union and the Government to reinstate teachers who [contest] elections and [are] unsuccessful at the polls,” the statement said.

“This decision by the government to disregard the collective agreement signed with the union had not only brought the three teachers to great personal hardships, but effectively they also lost their pensions and other benefits,” the NDP said.

The teachers had initially relied on the collective bargaining agreement which they thought had guaranteed them up to six months of no-pay election leave.

According to the agreement, on losing the elections, the teachers should have been reinstated, with all benefits intact.

However, when they applied for election leave, the Service Commissions Department pointed them to the Constitution – suggesting that it barred public servants from contesting the polls — and Gonsalves later said that the election leave provision of the agreement with the union was unconstitutional and aspirational. 

The case on behalf of the teachers was first heard by Justice Brian Cottle who, in February 2018, dismissed it as hopeless.

The Teachers’ Union appealed this decision, and last Tuesday, the appeal court ruled that Justice Cottle had erred and ordered that the three teachers — each of which had more than 30 years in the service — must receive their pensions.

“The NDP congratulates the SVGTU for their courage and tenacity in pushing forward to seek justice for their members despite the ruling of Justice Cottle. This historic victory is well deserved and when viewed in conjunction with the recent victory of the PSU (Public Service Union), highlights a worrying trend by this ULP government over the years of a practice that is unmistakably anti-worker and anti-union,” the party said.

“The NDP urges the SVGTU to continue to be true to their members and to represent their interests first. Further, the NDP is calling on the Government to respect the SVGTU and the PSU as the legitimate bargaining agents of teachers and public sector workers and to return to the bargaining table with the unions in accordance with their obligations under ILO (International Labour Organisation) Conventions and with historic practice in SVG.  In addition, the government should respect the bargaining process and engage in respectful and good-faith negotiations with teachers and public servants.”