TRINIDAD-LABOR-Teachers ordered back to classrooms

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The Trinidad and Tobago Unfired Teachers Association (TTUTA) has ordered its members to return to the classrooms on Monday after the government received an ex-prate injunction preventing them from taking a day to “reflect” on stalled salary negotiations.

“As your union president, I advise that we follow the mandate of the injunction, and as law-abiding citizens, we should all report for duty,” TTUTA president Antonia Tekah De Freitas said, hours after the Attorney General, Reginald Armour, SC, told reporters the Industrial Court judges had granted the government the injunction after a two-hour sitting.

“The government was not prepared to allow that illegality to continue in light of the obvious case law and sections 65, 67, and 69 of the Industrial Relations Act, which makes it clear that the teaching service is an essential service and is not permitted to engage in industrial action far more so illegal industrial action.”

Armour had described the planned action of teachers on Monday as illegal since they are deemed part of the essential services and therefore are forbidden from taking strike action.

He said the court would also interpret teachers’ “sick” actions.

“I don’t want to prejudge how the court will deal with such application or defense that the union may put forward. I have every confidence in the Industrial Court. I doubt they will consider every reason for not obeying this order very carefully.”

The government has maintained its position of negotiating a four-percent wage increase for public servants, warning that some trade unions’ call for significant wage increases would lead to it having to find billions of dollars (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) to meet back pay and annual salaries.

Last week, TTUTA staged a half day of reflection after successfully getting most teachers to stay away from classes on September 5, the first day of the school year.

Armour told a news conference refusal to obey the court could lead to TTUTA being decertified as the recognized union to represent the interests of teachers.

Armour said TTUTA could also be fined TT$10,000 (One TT dollar=US%0.16 cents) for disobeying the court order. In contrast, anyone who encourages members of an essential service to take industrial action can be fined TT$20,000.

The order restrains TTUTA from commencing and continuing industrial action, including “resting and reflecting.”

“It is also ordered that TTUTA is directed forthwith, through its president and executive, to instruct or direct members of the teaching service to report for duty on the 26th of September and continue as they are required to do in the normal course of their employment,” Armour said.

TTUTA will have to adhere to the order until November 24, when the court set aside time for them to respond.

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