CCJ dismisses GAWU, NAACIE appeal over sugar workers’ dismissals

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first_img…says meaningful consultations were held before estates’ closureThe Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has ruled against an appeal made by the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) and the National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (NAACIE) regarding the closure of the Rose Hall and Enmore sugar estates in 2017.In handing down the ruling on Tuesday, the CCJ said workers were adequately consulted before the Government’s decision to close the Rose Hall and Enmore sugar estates on December 29, 2017. GAWU and NAACIE represented most of the workers employed by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).The CCJ agreed with the High Court’s ruling that there was sufficient consultation, though it did not consider the Commission of Inquiry held in 2015 on the viability of GuySuCo to be part of the consultation process. The Court held that the subsequent stakeholder meetings were sufficient consultation.The final court noted that there were three meetings prior to the announcement of the final decision, and at one of them, GAWU made a two-hour presentation on the future of GuySuCo. The process, according to the Court, was not perfect but satisfied the legal duty to consult in the circumstances.The Court also found that there was sufficient evidence on record to show that the applicants (GAWU and NAACIE) had reasonable notice of GuySuCo’s intentions to close, the reasons for closure, and the number and categories of workers affected, as was legally required.The Court declined to address whether the right to work, enshrined in the Constitution, was breached, as this allegation stemmed from the argument that there was a breach of the duty to consult. Having found that there was no such breach, there was no need to make a determination on the constitutional issue.The Court also considered if Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams could have represented the state-owned corporation, GuySuCo. The CCJ ruled that the AG cannot represent the interest of private and public entities which are not part of the state. Therefore, he could not represent GuySuCo in this matter.However, the Court did note that the AG could represent the State in the application which sought constitutional relief for the alleged breach of the applicants’ constitutional rights.The Court made no order as to costs. The applicants were therefore represented by Devindra Kissoon and the respondents by Williams, Joycelin Kim Kyte-Thomas, Beverley Bishop-Cheddie and Judy Stuart-Adonis.The appeal was determined by the President of the CCJ, Sir Dennis Byron, and the Honourable Justices Jacob Wit, David Hayton, Winston Anderson and Maureen Rajnauth-Lee.In November 2017, Acting Chief Justice Roxane George denied the unions’ bid to prevent the closure of the East Demerara and Rose Hall sugar estates. The judge refused the nisi orders which were being sought against the GuySuCo and Cabinet’s decision to close the sugar estates.In their application before the Chief Justice, the unions had argued that the decision to close the estates was improper, as there were insufficient consultations between the Government and GuySuCo on one hand, and the GAWU and the NAACIE on the other. It also was their contention that sufficient time had not been allocated for consultations on the future of the sugar industry.According to the unions, the decision to close estates was clearly not informed by all factors to be considered, especially a socio-economic study which should have necessitated any such move. The application advanced, too, that the decision to close failed to conform to procedures clearly contained in the Trade Union Recognition Act and the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act.The unions were also seeking for the affected workers pension equivalent to what they would have received had they been employed by the sugar corporation, arguing that they have a fair expectation to employment until they attain pensionable age. They had contended that sugar workers possess unique skills, and it would pose a grave difficulty for them to secure employment beyond the industry.After Government’s announcement to close the estates on May 8, 2017, which would have resulted in the dismissal of thousands of sugar workers, Sattie Basdeo, Trustee of GAWU, and Roxanne St. Hill, Trustee of NAACIE, challenged the decision on the basis that the unions were inadequately consulted.They also contended that their constitutional right to work was breached. However, their action was dismissed by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.The applicants then turned to the CCJ, seeking special leave to appeal, but the Court ordered the parties to include the arguments that would be raised as part of their appeal if the leave was granted. The matter was then heard on July 10, 2018 before a panel of judges, who made a final decision that was handed down on Tuesday.The decision by GAWU to mount a legal challenge was never welcomed by a large number of former GuySuCo employees, who felt their union was improperly representing their causes. As such, the disgruntled workers are of the view that new leadership is needed for the GAWU, as they feel they are being neglected.last_img

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