Watson Duke gets injunction for PSA pension payment

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

PDP political leader Watson Duke outside the Assembly Legislature, Scarborough, June 24. – Photo by Corey Connelly

THE Public Services Association (PSA) has been ordered to pay its ex-president Watson Duke 50 per cent of his final salary when he was at the union’s helm as his pension benefit.

Duke scored a minor victory on June 28 when he obtained an interim injunction compelling the PSA to pay his pension benefit immediately until his lawsuit against the union goes to court.

Justice Frank Seepersad granted the interim injunction.

There will be a hearing of Duke’s substantive lawsuit on July 8, before the docketed judge, Justice Marissa Robertson.

Duke’s attorneys Farai Hove-Masaisai and Chelsea Edward filed his injunction application on June 27. They asked for an urgent hearing. In a certificate of urgency, Edwards said Duke had no other source of income, as he was now retired and looking towards his pension benefit.

She said, “The applicant’s/claimant’s financial reserves are quickly depleting and is now being threatened with legal action by financial institutions for the arrears in his loan payments.

“The applicant/claimant suffered significant financial losses as a result of the actions of the respondent/defendant in not only refusing to pay his pension benefits but also refusing to pay his legitimate pension benefits.

“If left without a pension the applicant/claimant is facing grave financial impecunity.”

In early June, Duke filed a lawsuit against the PSA over his pension.

Duke, who is also the political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots and a former THA deputy chief secretary, is seeking declarations that his rights and his contract of employment were breached by the refusal to pay his pension.

His lawsuit also maintained he was facing bankruptcy.

“As a result of the delayed pension payments, the claimant has been unable to meet his financial obligations, leading to unpaid debts and legal actions from creditors, including banks, over nonpayment of loans and credit cards.

“The claimant is now facing the imminent risk of being declared bankrupt by the courts due to his inability to pay his debts.

“If declared bankrupt, the claimant fears that he will be prevented from participating in the upcoming general elections…”

The Representation of the People Act disqualifies anyone declared bankrupt from holding office in a registered party.

“This would cause irreparable harm to the claimant’s political career and deprive the electorate of their choice of representative.

“The claimant, as the political leader of the PDP and a career politician, must remain free from bankruptcy to fairly compete in all upcoming elections in TT.”

Duke is seeking compensation of $729,833.33 as special damages and $25,166.67 as continued payment of his regular monthly pension benefits of two-thirds of his former salary, starting June 20.

He was the PSA’s president from November 2009-December 2021.

His lawsuit said the PSA’s general council passed resolutions to allow for the terms and conditions of employment of a president to be parallel to those of a permanent secretary in the Public Service.

It claimed in 2009, before he became president, the PSA’s general council passed two resolutions on pensions for full-time officers under the tenure of former PSA president and labour minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus.

One resolution removed the age requirement for receiving a pension, meaning that those who served as full-time officers for ten continuous years and held a particular position for four continuous years were eligible for a pension.

The other sought to increase pension benefits from 50 per cent of the last salary an officer received to two-thirds.

Duke’s lawsuit said in September 2010, the union’s general council passed another resolution rescinding the previous two on the basis that only the union’s conference of delegates could make the changes.

The general council also passed a resolution to ensure its officers were afforded the same retirement benefits as public servants of similar rank and status.

Duke’s lawsuit referred to a decision by the conference in March 2004 to approve pension recommendations. It was recommended that pensions be paid when a full-time officer turned 50, with varying calculations based on the time they served in the union.

Duke’s lawsuit said when he left the PSA, at 45, there was an understanding he would receive his pension on the basis of the 2009 resolutions.

“The defendant’s General Council increased the pension benefits to full-time officers of the defendant.

“It removed the age requirement that officers had to be 50 years old to be entitled to the payment of their pension (and) sought to create parity in the benefits accorded to public servants who hold the positions as those full-time officers in the defendant.

“Therefore, pension payments to all full-time officers of the Public Services Association (were) amended from the present formula of 50 per cent to that of two-thirds of final salary in keeping with the present calculation in the public-sector environment.”

It added, “The failure of the defendant to pay the claimant his pension has amounted to a breach of the terms and conditions of employment between the claimant and the defendant.

“This contractual term cannot be unilaterally varied by the PSA.”

Leroy Baptiste, the PSA’s president, did not immediately return Newsday’s calls for comment on June 28, nor did he respond to messages sent on WhatsApp on the injunction ruling.

On June 25, he said it was not the union’s intention to withhold what someone was rightfully due. He said the PSA had no intention of “rendering anyone bankrupt,” and was trying to ensure all its members receive what they are owed.