Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC. –
PLANNED protest action by the TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) for Monday, was cancelled by the Industrial Court which granted the Minister of Labour an ex-parte injunction and ordered teachers to turn up for duty.
This was revealed by Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, during a press conference on Sunday at his office in Port of Spain. Armour said the injunction was granted by four Industrial Court judges after a two-hour sitting which ended at 5 pm on Sunday.
In an internal memo last Friday – a copy of which was sent to Newsday – TTUTA called on teachers to stay home Monday and “reflect” on stalled salary negotiations with the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO).
This would have been the second day of protests by teachers who heeded the union’s call to stay away on September 5 – the first day of the school year.
On that occasion, TTUTA claimed more than 70 per cent of teachers stayed home. The Education Ministry expected 30,100 teachers to turn up to welcome some 305,000 students on September 5, but only 3,243 showed up.
Then on Thursday, teachers were told to come to work for only the second half of that school day, to protest the “disrespect” shown by CPO Dr Darryl Dindial. TTUTA claimed 75 per cent of teachers heeded the call on Thursday.
Armour described the planned action of teachers to stay away from school on Monday as illegal since they are deemed part of the essential services and therefore are forbidden from taking strike action.
Asked about teachers calling in sick on Monday, as is their legal right, Armour said that will be left for the judges to interpret.
“I don’t want to prejudge how the court is going to deal with such application or defence that may be put forward by the union. I have every confidence in the Industrial Court. I have no doubt they will look at every reason given for not obeying this order very carefully.”
TTUTA head Antonia De Freitas. –
Armour said there is no novelty in Sunday’s ruling as there is precedent involving Government and TTUTA dating back to 1997.
He said refusal to obey the court could lead to TTUTA being decertified as the recognised union to represent the interests of teachers. If this happens, current negotiations with the CPO will stop until a recognised union is appointed.
Armour added that TTUTA can also be fined $10,000 for disobeying the court order,r while anyone who encourages members of an essential service to take industrial action, can be fined $20,000.
The order restrains TTUTA from commencing and or continuing industrial action including, “resting and reflecting.”
“It is also ordered that TTUTA is directed forthwith, through its president and executive, to instruct or direct members of the teaching service to report for duty on the 26th of September and continue as they are required to do in the normal course of their employment,” Armour said.
TTUTA will have to adhere to the order until November 24, when the court set aside time for them to respond.
Asked if this injunction won’t further anger teachers, Armour said: “I can’t speak for the emotional condition of TTUTA or teachers. All I would say is that Government was very concerned about what was a contributing state of illegality, and has been successful in persuading the Industrial Court, to issue an order to protect the continued functioning of our school system and prevent further illegality.”
“What prompted the ex-parte move were newspaper reports and declarations in the name of TTUTA, calling on teachers not to work tomorrow (Monday).
“The government was not prepared to allow that illegality to continue in light of the very clear case law and sections 65, 67 and 69 of the Industrial Relations Act which makes it clear that the teaching service is an essential service and is not permitted to engage in industrial action far more so illegal industrial action.”
Teachers and their union have been agitating for a return to the market survey formula, used in past collective bargaining, to set the rate for salary increases rather than the blanket four per cent offer from the Government for all branches of the public service, including teachers.
Reacting to the court’s ruling last evening, TTUTA president Antonia Tekah De Freitas called on teachers to obey the law.
“As your union president I advise that we follow the mandate of the injunction, and as law-abiding citizens, we should all report for duty tomorrow,” she said in a video sent to Newsday.