While I may be reluctant to single out the Minister of Education in this article, it is needful to do so because persons in Cabinet need to know the extent of their roles, authority and responsibilities within the context of our government and legal structure.
Our Prime Minister has time and again shown his abject ignorance of these principles and it is no wonder that his Minister of Education is as clueless as he is. The highest court in our region pronounced decades ago that as Minister of Lands, the deceased Ben Jones, had the authority to bind the Cabinet and government of Grenada when he made the decision to allow Dorset Charles to carry on a business enterprise on Grand Anse beach.
This is the basis of the decision that our Prime Minister, in all his pomp and ignorance, declares repeatedly that he disagrees with; he has never been a student of the laws.
The Minister of Education commits and binds the Cabinet of Grenada in her area of authority when she or her subordinate officers, to whom she issues directions, make public pronouncements.
It is within this context that I address the threatening, utterly ridiculous, unlawful and provocative statement promulgated by the Acting Chief Education Officer. Yes, that is the style of Khief, try not to confirm key persons to any post so it is easier to manipulate them. Keep them as actors so they will simply play a particular role or be moved on for someone else who is more pliable!
This strategy is precisely what is destroying our Public Service, and this confrontational style of Khief and his minions will only lead to industrial unrest. So, Senator Bhola, the reason why there was little industrial unrest during the NDC years is simply because the NDC respected workers’ rights and kept their promises to workers. They never docked workers’ wages; they never threatened workers during industrial action; they negotiated in good faith! Maybe your chief Khief should listen some more to the Comrade President and not “break stick in his ears”.
Analyzing Circular No. 27/2021 of March 12, 2021
Let us now dissect the information published in the circular:
- The communication is to:
a) established public officers like ministry officials;
b) principals and teachers in all schools; and
c) the Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT).
II. The communication complains about the actions of teachers only.
III. The communication recognizes that the teachers are engaged in industrial action called by their union, the GUT.
IV. The communication refers to breach of contract of Employment and the Education Act.
V,. The communication cites the labour laws, and the collective bargaining agreement with GUT but ignores the Employment Act 2016.
VI. The communication claims (in written words only) that the ministry (minister) recognises the rights of trades unions and workers.
VII. The communication issues a thinly veiled threat to teachers and seeks to intimidate them while they pursue industrial action.
The miseducation/education of the Minister
Section 26 of the Labour Relations Act
(1) An employer or person acting on an employer’s behalf, or a trade union or officer of a trade union, with respect to any employee or any person seeking employment, who-
(a) requires that he or she must not join a trade union or relinquish trade union membership;
(b) discriminates or takes any prejudicial action, including discipline or dismissal, against such employee or person by reason of trade union membership or because of participation in lawful trade union activities;
(c) discriminates or takes any prejudicial action, including discipline or dismissal, against such employee or person because of that employee’s or person’s exercise or anticipated exercise of any right conferred or recognised by this Act or the Employment Act, 1999, Chapter 89 or because of his or her participation in any capacity in a proceeding under this Act or the Employment Act, 1999;
(d) threatens such employee or person that he or she will suffer any disadvantage from exercising any right conferred or recognised by this Act or the Employment Act, 1999 or from participating in any capacity in a proceeding under this Act or the Employment Act, 1999, Chapter 89;
(e) promises such employee or person any benefit or advantage for not exercising any right conferred or recognised by this Act or the Employment Act, 1999 or from participating in any capacity in a proceeding under this Act or the Employment Act, 1999, Chapter 89;
(f) restrains or seeks to restrain such an employee or person, by a contract of employment or otherwise, from exercising any right conferred or recognised by this Act or the Employment Act, 1999, Chapter 89 or from participating in any capacity in a proceeding under this Act or the Employment Act, 1999, Chapter 89, and any contractual term which purports to exert any such restraint shall be void, whether agreed to before or after the coming into force of this Act;
(g) imposes any discipline or disadvantage upon an employee for refusing to do work normally done by an employee who is lawfully on strike or who is locked out, unless such work must be done to prevent an actual danger to life, health, or personal safety, commits an offence and shall be liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars or to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year, or to both such fine and imprisonment.
(2) Nothing in this section shall be interpreted as preventing an employer from dismissing or otherwise disciplining an employee for just cause, in accordance with section 73 of the Employment Act, 1999, Chapter 89.
Section 74 of the Employment Act
(1) The employment of an employee shall not be terminated by an employer unless there is a valid reason for such termination connected with the capacity or conduct of the employee or based on the operational requirements of the enterprise, or breach of contract of employment or disciplinary rules.
(2) the following reasons do not constitute valid reasons for dismissal or the imposition of disciplinary action:
(a) an employee’s race, colour, national extraction, social origin, religion, political opinion, sex, marital status, family responsibilities or disability,
(b) a female employee’s pregnancy or a reason connected with her pregnancy,
(c) an employee’s exercise of any of the rights specified in Part V of the Labour Relations Act, 1999;
(d) an employee’s temporary absence from work because of sickness or injury;
(e) an employee’s exercise or proposed exercise of the right to remove himself or herself from a work situation which he reasonably believes presents an imminent or serious danger to life or health;
(f) an employee’s participation, or proposed participation in industrial action which takes place in conformity with Part IX of the Labour Relations Act, 1999;
(g) an employee’s refusal to do any work normally done by an employee who is engaged in industrial action;
(h) the filing of a complaint or the participation in proceedings against an employer involving alleged violations of any enactment.
Regarding the above, the Minister of Education and her subordinates ought to note the following:
(1). Established public servants are not governed by a simple contract of employment but they have a relationship of tenure that is governed, not by an ordinary act of Parliament like the Education Act, but by the Constitution of Grenada and other Regulations emanating therefrom.
(2). The body that is responsible for the appointment, promotion, transfer, removal and discipline of established public servants is the Public Service Commission and not the minister or her subordinates. They can only file complaints with the PSC and act in keeping with the PSC Regulations and Staff Orders, where applicable.
So, even if there is a so-called breach of a contract of employment it is not for the minister and her minions to determine, but the PSC.
(3). The PSC Regulations made under the authority of the Constitution of Grenada and Staff Orders, must now be read in conformity with other Acts of Parliament like the Employment Act or the Labour Relations Act.
(4). Strike action or other forms of industrial action are recognised by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Part IX of the Labour Relations Act.
(5). It is the right of teachers to participate in industrial action and any restriction or restrain in any actual or perceived contract that is contrary to that right is clearly null, void and of no effect.
(6). Insofar as the communication contained in Circular No. 27/2021 of March 12, 2021 may be construed to be an attempt to restrain, threaten, discriminate against or create prejudice against teachers who seek to engage in lawful industrial action, action that is clearly admitted and recognised by the Minister of Education as such, Minister Emmalin Pierre, and her agents, need to know that they are engaging in criminal conduct that is spelt out in the Employment Act above.
(7). Even the PSC does not have the power to take disciplinary action against a teacher for engaging in conduct that is recognied to be in conformity with Parts V and IX of the Labour Relations Act.
The wrap up
I urge the Minister of Education to independently ensure that her conduct is not unlawful or criminal, given that she bears the constitutional authority for acts committed under her watch as Minister of Education. Her husband, who is a high-ranking police officer, is well placed to advise, and should advise her about her criminal liability as principal of the Ministry of Education.
The minister ought not to allow promises of leadership of the NNP influence her vision, making her a pawn in the game that is being played by party leader Khief. Take notice of how Khief is now “shafting his decades long partner-in-crime”, so to speak.
I know that Khief is putting the minister under intense pressure to solve the problem with teachers, but he does give the proper tools to the minister to solve the problems when he has made those recent absurd financial decisions and now say that there is no money available.
Contrary to what his defenders may say, Khief recently found many millions to make lump sum and recurrent pension payments to people who became public servants between April 1983 and February 1985, just to score political points.
The airport loan and the Grenlec purchase were wholly unnecessary during this crisis period, and the additional massive expenses for the appointments of party loyalists to prepare for elections were avoidable.
Grenada, we cannot allow Khief to bully his way through our teachers simply because they are instructing children whom Keith and his gang do not really care about, except to use them to show off their faces for political purposes. Look at how the prices of simple, basic food and other items are rising astronomically in Grenada at this time; and once they go up they defy the laws of gravity and do not come down.
Teachers, we know that you love your students, our children, because you have shown it over the many years; so we will support you to the end and accept the sacrifices!
Cajeton Hood is a practicing Attorney-at-law who served as Attorney General during the 2013-18 rule of the New National Party government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell