CCJ dismisses Trade Unions’ appeal on Govt’s decision to close Rose Hall, Enmore estates

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CCJ is Headquartered in Trinidad

The appeal by the Guyana Agricultural and General Worker’s Union’s (GAWU) and National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees’ (NAACIE) to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was on Tuesday dismissed on the grounds that the applicants [GAWU & NAACIE] had sound notice of Government’s intention to close the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) estates, the reasons for closure and the number of workers who would have been affected, prior to December 29, 2017.

At the end of 2017, Rose Hall, Skeldon, Wales and Enmore estates ceased operations at the behest of Government, leaving only three estates- Albion, Blairmont, and Uitvlugt- in operation.

To this end, thousands of sugar workers were left jobless.

GAWU and NAACIE took to the High Court on behalf of the workers, seeking to quash the APNU-AFC Government’s decision to close the Rose Hall and East Demerara Estates 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 Caribbean Court of Justice (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.

GAWU’s President, Komal Chand, was recorded in the media stating that their argument in court was that the limited consultations between the Unions, the Opposition and the Government regarding the future of the sugar industry could were not acceptable.

He noted that just about four hours in total were spent on the three occasions the parties met.

“Our Unions pointed out that the Sugar CoI spent hundreds of man hours, and, at the end of that process, recommended that closure should not be pursued. We further pointed out that the closure decision clearly was not informed by the full consideration of all the factors which we have pointed out, especially that a socio-economic study was not pursued, though it was necessary,” General Secretary Seepaul Narine had said.

“Furthermore, we argued that the closure decision did not follow the clearly set out procedure contained in the Trade Union Recognition Act and the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act. Our Unions are seeking that the Government and GuySuCo engage in a proper and full consultation, as we hold that such an exercise will result in a different decision being taken,” he added.

GAWU had said that the unions believes that their appeal has great merit and substance, and that the learned Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire –at the High Court- had erred in her determination to deny their application.

However, the CCJ agreed with the lower courts 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. 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.”
Moreover, the CCJ outlined that “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 the Attorney General could represent the state-owned corporation of GuySuCo.
The CCJ ruled that “the Attorney General cannot represent the interest of private and
public entities which are not part of the state and therefore, the Attorney General could not
represent the Guysuco in this matter. However, the Court did note that the Attorney General could represent the State in the application which sought constitutional relief for the alleged breach of the Applicants’ constitutional rights.”

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