ECA welcomes new Industrial Court president, unions demand answers on appointment

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

New president of the Industrial Court Heather Seale, left, receives her instrument of appointment from President Christine Kangaloo at President’s House on December 13. – Photo courtesy: Office of the President

THE Employers’ Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago is calling for greater transparency in the process of appointing members to the Industrial Court as it extended well-wishes to its newly appointed president, Heather Seale.

In a statement on Thursday, the association said it anticipated a successful tenure for Seale. It said it is hopeful she will continue building on the foundation already laid, further solidifying and strengthening the role of the institution in providing guidance for appropriate behavioural practices and decision-making in the world of work that will contribute to the preservation and promotion of industrial peace and stability.

The release also expressed gratitude to former president Deborah Thomas-Felix, acknowledging her service and calling her an outstanding judicial officer and court administrator.

It credited Thomas-Felix and her team with leading the Industrial Court through transformation and modernisation efforts, saying she oversaw the highest level of adjudication of labour law and industrial relations standards and practices.

The statement said her contributions extended beyond TT, impacting the Caribbean and the global stage.

It said Thomas-Felix is the first TT national and Caribbean national appointed as a member of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal and the second vice president, ultimately becoming its eighth president in 2016. She also served as a member of the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendation for the International Labour Organisation and as a member of the International Monetary Fund’s administrative tribunal.

In a release on Thursday, the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) continued to express its concerns over President Christine Kangaloo’s decision not to renew the term of Thomas-Felix as president of the court.

JTUM believes it is a breach of the principle of separation of powers, process, procedure, precedents and good industrial relations that predates the Industrial Relations Act, which has long been recognised under common law.

JTUM said the Industrial Court is the custodian of good industrial relations and verbal dismissals have been ruled harsh and oppressive.

It argued a legitimate expectation for renewal would arise based on precedents, saying the President previously praised the court’s accomplishments under Thomas-Felix and her initiatives of introducing annual reports for transparency and accountability, as well as the digitisation of the library for the benefit of employers, unions and the government.

The statement called her termination unprecedented, as it noted all previous presidents who retired of their own volition. It called for answers and raised concerns about the denial of justice to those who have matters before Thomas-Felix; it questioned whether Thomas-Felix was consulted and given an opportunity to respond.

“The President is not above the fundamental principles of natural justice.”