Friday, December 15, 2017

Jitters for judges

Industrial Court president: They want security of tenure


LABOUR TALK: Robert Giuseppi, labour and industrial relations specialist, speaks to Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix, following yesterday’s special sitting to mark the opening of the 2014/15 Industrial Court law term at the Industrial Court building, corner Queen and St Vincent Streets, Port of Spain. —Photo: STEPHEN DOOBAY

Mark Fraser

Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix has pleaded for judges of the court to be granted  the security of tenure they deserve.

Addressing the opening of the Industrial Court’s 2014-2015 law term yesterday, Thomas-Felix said, for decades, the issue has been raised, but is yet to become reality.

With the exception of the president of the Industrial Court, all judges are appointed by the President of Trinidad and Tobago on the advice of the Cabinet. 

This is unlike High Court Judges who are appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission.

“At present, the judges of the Industrial Court do not enjoy security of tenure and they have to endure nail-biting moments, wondering if they will have a job at the expiration of the term of their contract. This is simply untenable,” Thomas-Felix said before a packed St Vincent Street, Port of Spain, courtroom comprising trade union members, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan and members of the legal fraternity.

“The 2014 publication of the Ministry of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development ‘MOLSMED At Work” noted that the Industrial Relations Advisory Committee has recommended strengthening the role of the Industrial Court and the tenure of its judges. This has been the recommendation of many over the decades,” she added.

The Industrial Court head said she hoped that in 2015 when the court celebrates its 50th anniversary as an institution, the members of the court would be accorded this security of tenure.

She said the court is once again faced with the problem of insufficient funding, an issue which was raised by Chief Justice Ivor Archie at the opening of the judiciary’s law term last week.

 “We wanted to celebrate our 50th anniversary next year by hosting events and projects and a number of activities. We sought $5 million, however we received $1.9 million. Obviously this will severely hamper the cost to execute a number of these planned projects and activities. We will have to determine which projects and activities we can embark on next year,” she added.

Touching on the achievements of the court in the past year, Thomas-Felix announced that the pile-up of judgments, which dated back to 2008, has been cleared.

“At the opening of the law term in 2012 I indicated that the clearing of this backlog was one of my main areas of focus. I am very happy to report that there are no reserved judgments at the Industrial Court for any period prior to 2014,” she said.

“We have no example in our recent history where there were only outstanding judgments for a current year at the court,” she pointed out.

She went on to state that a large part of the work of the court goes unnoticed because several disputes are resolved out of the courtroom. Most of these matters, she added, were withdrawn by trade unions.

“Last year 271 matters were withdrawn and this year, so far, 251 have been withdrawn. The withdrawal of matters bears testimony to the effectiveness of the mechanisms of the Court and the social dialogue processes that are available for dealing with them,” she said.

Meanwhile, Thomas-Felix reported that the complement of judges at the court has increased from 22 to 25, which has allowed for the San Fernando branch of the court to be operational on a daily basis, beginning from this term.

AG Ramlogan responds

Responding to the call by Thomas-Felix for Industrial Court judges to be given security of tenure, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said the Government is open to debate on the matter.

“That is a matter that has been bandied about now for over two or three decades. It is a question that requires a policy decision, it is a question of reform that has to be considered in the context of an Act that requires some other changes that we can look at,” he said.

On the court president’s complaint about insufficient funding, he said:

“I am yet to come across any public official in the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and anywhere in the world that has said they received enough money and they received more than what they wanted. The fact of the matter is, you have to prioritise expenditure. You have to cut your cloth based on how much cloth you have and you have to make do with what you have. The fact is the judiciary’s annual budget under this Government has consistently gone up since we’ve come into office.”