A female teacher of St. Joseph’s Convent, St. George’s is taking the Keith Mitchell-led government to court for docking her salary following protest action taken by teachers and public officers to press their demands for 25% gratuity and pension payments in the face of a 2% offer from the administration.
This was disclosed by former Attorney-General, Cajeton Hood who is representing the teacher whose name was not given.
In an interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper, the lawyer said that June 3 is the date set for the first hearing of the matter at the level of the High Court.
Hood said the suit filed is alleging Constitutional breaches, breaches of contractual rights and common law rights issues stemming from the decision of the Mitchell government to dock the monthly pay of teachers who stayed off the job during a trade union-organised strike action in November 2018.
This newspaper understands that the teacher lost over EC$1, 200.00 from her salary for the month.
According to Attorney Hood , this deduction was “pretty significant for Grenada’s salaries.”
He is contending that under the statutes or laws governing employment within the Public Service, the Government of Grenada, through the Ministry of Finance, headed by Prime Minister Mitchell has no legal footing to dock the salaries of public workers as a disciplinary measure.
The former AG is basing his argument on the premise that the Public Service Commission (PSC) is the only body set up by the Constitution of Grenada, the supreme law of the land, with a specific mandate to deal with public officers working in the establishment.
“If the Government of Grenada is alleging that public officers had no permission to stay away from the job on certain days they (government) ought to have made a complaint to the PSC and let the PSC…deal with it and act accordingly”, he told this newspaper.
Hood stated that “the courts in our jurisdiction has pronounced on that (issue) already because the intention is to ensure that employees in the Public Service are protected from political decision making”.
“I can choose who I want to vote for and I think we know as Grenadians that politicians who are seeking to ascend into power do not like the fact that people didn’t vote for them and quite naturally, employees in the Public Service may find themselves the subject of victimisation by politicians who believe that they didn’t support them politically. So, hence, the Public Service Commission is there as a shield”, he said.
Notably, the former AG pointed out that unlike other constitutions, the one in Grenada distinctively recognises the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT) and the Public Workers Union (PWU), formally called the Civil Service Association when the document was written for independence in 1974.
Hood said: “As a matter of fact these two (2) organisations are represented on the Public Service Commission. So, we are not talking about an arbitrary organisation that has been formed and registered.
The unions are recognised in the constitution….there are two (2) appointments to the PSC as commissioners that cannot happen except the unions agree and that is very important.
“We are of the view that matters relating to employment in the Public Service, such as discipline, employment, transfers, vacation and again, subject to what the Government of Grenada says is affordable based on their budget, all of these matters are to be controlled by the Public Service Commission and not the Government of Grenada.”
The attorney charged that “the government took notice of the fact that the unions had called their members out on strike on certain days in November and alarmingly, even before the strike action was taken, the Cabinet of Grenada decided to deduct people’s salary.
“And I have proof,” Attorney Hood said, pointing out that he has in his possession a letter from Cabinet Secretary, Beryl Isaac, that was “sent out to Permanent Secretaries and Heads of departments on November 13, before the unions commenced the industrial action.
“So it means therefore that Cabinet must have met before November 13 and the last day of the strike that was announced by the teachers was November 14. So, it is common sense (that the government) made that decision before, to deduct from the teachers’ salary…and the day after, the goodly Accountant-General was giving orders throughout the public service as to what to do with people’s salaries.
The post of Accountant General is being occupied by Quinta Charles, a former Chief Financial Controller at the Digicel Group.
Charles is the daughter of Cynthia Charles, who served as Secretary to Prime Minister Mitchell when he served as Works Minister back in the 1980’s under the first NNP administration of late Prime Minister H.A Blaize.
Attorney Hood, who has worked in the public service as a Permanent Secretary for a number of years, explained the process that is conducted in order to pay monthly salaries to public servants.
He said: “The monies are processed through the system and sent to the bank by the 15th of the month, so for the decision of the government to affect public servants salary for (the month of) November (2018), these people in the Ministry of Finance would have done their work and input before the 15th …and I think this is callous and without any misgivings, its wicked.
“We are saying that the Cabinet ought to have gone through the Public Service Commission because the action of the Executive (Cabinet of Ministers) was in my view a spiteful action, designed to teach the members a lesson. In other words, (the government said) you want to stand up against us we will teach you a lesson, we will show you who have power and that ought not to happen and I believe that Grenadians need to understand that the monies in the Treasury belong to Grenadians (and) not to a group of people who we have elected.
“They (ministers) have been put there to be in charge of the money to protect our assets (and) not to make arbitrary, spiteful and hurtful decisions…we can’t have that in a democratic society – we can’t allow the persons that we put there to rule our country according to law, to act so lawlessly.
“According to the Public Service regulations, the PSC recognises that there may be a situation where workers are absent without leave or proper excuse and I am saying (that) what the government is alleging, that the workers stayed away from work without leave or reasonably excuse (that) there is a specific provision in the Public Service regulations that allows for that to be dealt with by the PSC via a complaint.”
Attorney Hood is seeking to have the teacher recompensed by the court for the docking of her salary in November.
He also disclosed that the public sector unions “are desirous in filing a class action suit on that issue on behalf of all public servants whose salaries were affected by the November 2018 salary deduction.”
“Nothing has been filed on behalf of the mass of teachers and other public workers on that issue as yet but I know that there is that intention that has been communicated by the GUT and the PWU also because this is a very important point because that government needs to know what they can and cannot do,” he said.
Attorney Hood revealed that he is working along with another former Attorney-General, James “Jimmy” Bristol on the way forward with the class action suit in an effort to bring justice to the affected workers.
Prime Minister Mitchell has consistently maintained that he is against paying public officers for days off from the workplace on strike action when they should be on the job.