There will be no resting or reflecting for teachers today, Attorney General Reginald Armour, SC, has warned.
Speaking during a hastily called press conference yesterday, Armour announced that the Ministry of Labour had successfully filed an ex parte injunction against the T&T Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) at the Industrial Court to stop planned protest action today.
Armour made the announcement at the Office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs’ offices at the Government Campus Plaza in Port-of-Spain.
“The application was made by the Minister of Labour in the context of ongoing illegal action by TTUTA and the members of that association. The members of the teaching service of Trinidad and Tobago and the Government became very concerned to make an application to the court to bring an end to this illegal action in the national interest,” Armour said.
The ex parte application was filed pursuant to Section 65 of the Industrial Relations Act at 3 pm yesterday.
By 5 pm, the matter was heard by Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix, vice-president Herbert Soverall, chairman of the Industrial Court’s Essential Services Division Lawrence Achong and member Gregory Rousseau.
While TTUTA, the representative body for teachers, was not present at the hearing yesterday, Armour said one of their attorneys had a conversation with Senior Counsel Russell Martineau, the lead attorney for the Labour Ministry, and therefore they were aware of the legal action.
Armour said the action was taken to protect parents from illegal actions taken by teachers.
“The illegal industrial action which was being taken started on September 5, the first day of the opening of primary and secondary schools in the new term in T&T, and the record shows that upwards of 50 per cent, sometimes as high as high as 70 per cent of primary school teachers and secondary school teachers, have stayed away from school as a result of being called on by their union to ‘rest and reflect’,” Armour said.
“That action is threatened to continue tomorrow, which is the first day of school for the coming week and it is against the background of that threatened action that the Government took the decision to approach the court,” he added.
Armour said according to Section 69: 1 (d) of the Industrial Relations Act, the teaching service is an essential service and is therefore not permitted to take industrial action whether it be “resting and reflecting” or anything amounting to not turning out to work.
He said the legal team was relying on a “compelling” 1997 judgment against TTUTA to buttress its case.
“There could be no doubt on the part of TTUTA or, in fact, those advising the union, that the action that they have undertaken over the last couple weeks, since the start of the new school term, is illegal,” Armour said.
Armour said if TTUTA or teachers breach the court’s order, they are liable to tens of thousands of dollars in fines or even loss of employment as a result of a breach of contract.
“It is my confident expectation that law-abiding citizens of T&T including teachers will turn out for work tomorrow and parents of those students can expect to send their children to school and the schools will be properly staffed,” he said.
He warned that TTUTA, as a union, could be de-registered if it does not heed the court’s ruling.
Armour also warned doctors issuing sick leave certificates for today to be aware of the terms of the order from the Industrial Court, as all such documents will be properly scrutinised.
Asked if he felt the action by the Government would further anger teachers, Armour said, “I cannot speak to the emotional condition of TTUTA or teachers as to whether they will be angry or not that is not for me to say all I would say is that the Government was very concerned about what was a continuing state of illegality and has gone to court and has been successful in persuading the Industrial Court, the Superior Court of record, to issue an order to protect the continuing functioning of our school systems and prevent any further illegality.”
The matter will be heard on November 24 at 1.30 pm.