Thursday, April 18, 2024

FRANKLY SPEAKING: Speaking out as a trade unionist


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First they came for the communists, but I was not a communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the socialists and the trade unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me. – Pastor Martin Niemoeller.
They have come for Jeff Broomes, and as a trade unionist, I must speak out before they come for me.
From the outset, let me state that I am not defending Broomes because I think that he is guiltless. But in Barbados, everyone, even Broomes, is innocent until he pleads guilty or guilt is established after a duly constituted body makes that determination after hearing the evidence and giving the accused the right to be heard.
I am therefore concerned that the Public Service Commission (PSC) has taken steps against him, under the guise of a transfer, before it follows the rules in order to establish his guilt or innocence.
The Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) has achieved its goal of separating the principal from Alexandra School; but it has nothing to rejoice about when you consider the way it was done. I hope that the membership of the union is sensible enough to condemn the method that was adopted by the PSC. The BSTU should vociferously disassociate itself from the denial of due process to Mr Broomes. Even murderers who kill in front of witnesses are given the right to be heard before sentence is pronounced.
The PSC is supposed to be an independent body charged with the responsibility of making appointments and exercising disciplinary control over members of the Public Service. Its power and procedures are set out in the Constitution and the Public Service Act and regulations. It does not have the right to act on the recommendations of anybody that is not authorized by those pieces of legislation.
It certainly cannot keep a straight face and expect to convince the country that it acted independently of the recommendations of the Waterman Commission into the affairs of the Alexandra School. Mr Waterman clearly stated that these matters should be investigated by the PSC. I do not pretend to be all-knowing, but I am not aware of any investigation by the PSC that would have authorized it to act against Broomes and inflict collateral damage on other innocent public officers.
The PSC could not be so naïve as to believe that by transferring Broomes and a number of others it has resolved anything. Its actions have only served to give the Government the opportunity to call the election in a period of industrial peace because the teachers would not be on strike.
However, if the BSTU is worth its salt, it would move with all deliberate speed to be seen to protect the rights of its shop steward Mrs Gail Streat-Jules. She was acting on behalf of the union and has been adversely affected in her employment as a consequence. At the very least, the BSTU should report the PSC to the police for breaching Section 40A of the Trade Union Act.
If the police fail to act, the union should institute a private prosecution against the PSC. The immunities granted to service commissions by Section 106 of the Constitution do not appear to extend to conduct that might appear to be criminal. And Section 40A makes it an offence, punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both, for an employer to dismiss or adversely affect an employee for taking part in trade union activity.
That might be only the beginning of the legal troubles for the PSC. Remember, it has acted against Broomes without giving him an opportunity to be heard. It would be completely out of character for him to meekly accept punishment, by whatever name it is called, for peace’s sake. He is now the victim, but this matter is bigger than he is.
Every right-thinking person in this country should find the behaviour of the PSC offensive: it should not be seen to be trying to circumvent the rules. Luckily, Broomes has options, and he finds himself uniquely placed not only to defend his rights, but to establish standards and procedures which will serve as precedents to guide future service commissions.
I now find myself in the uncomfortable position of advising Broomes. I consider him to be the villain in the Alexandra matter, but even villains have rights that must be protected. My advice to him would be to institute proceedings in the High Court for a judicial review of the actions of the PSC. He has more than enough grounds for seeking relief, but I will only quote a few from the Administrative Justice Act, namely: breach of the principles of natural justice; acting on instructions from an unauthorized person; and failure to satisfy or observe conditions or procedures required by law.
The BSTU should not be happy to have achieved its goal of separating the principal from the school at this cost. I cannot be so short-sighted to believe that removing Broomes by any means necessary is okay. What will be their position when something similar happens to a BSTU member they consider to be innocent?
Finally, my advice to the Public Service Commission is simple: resign before you do further damage to the institution called the Public Service.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator.


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