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The Court of Appeal has blocked a move by the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) to represent workers at the Desalination Company of T&T (Desalcott).

Delivering a judgment during a brief virtual hearing yesterday, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judges Gregory Smith and Andre Des Vignes stated that High Court Judge Carol Gobin was correct to rule that the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board made an error in deciding that the company was not to be considered as an essential industry.

The certification of the company was central to the case as under the Industrial Relations Act, trade unions are not permitted to represent the workers of more than one essential industry.

The OWTU currently represents employees of the T&T Electricity Commission (T&TEC).

Des Vignes, who wrote the judgment, stated that a segment of the legislation which protects the board’s work from review did not preclude Gobin from deciding the case as the board made errors in determining its jurisdiction and failed to adhere to the principles of natural justice.

He also ruled that the private company, which supplies almost 40 million gallons of potable water a day to the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) for the Point Lisas Industrial Estate and thousands of customers in central and southwest Trinidad, did not have an option but to file the case as it was not allowed to make submissions to the board before it made its decision.

In considering whether Gobin should have decided the certification or remit the matter back to the board for its reconsideration, Des Vignes noted that the board’s decision that the company could not be recognised as it only supplies water and does not do sewerage management was absurd.

“The board’s decision was tainted by legal error arising from the conjunctive interpretation of the “water and sewerage;” there was nothing left but to give the phrase disjunctive interpretation, which is what the judge did,” Des Vignes said.

“Thus if a worker is involved in water but not sewerage, that worker is still engaged in providing an essential service to an essential industry,” he added.

The Appeal Court was also asked to consider whether the segment of the legislation which precludes review of the board’s decisions infringed on the separation of powers. Des Vignes said no as he stated the board and the courts perform different functions.

According to the evidence in the case, the union made the application to be certified as the majority union for the company in October 2010. The board only communicated its decision two years later.

Gobin delivered her decision that was appealed in 2015.

Although the board and the Office of the Attorney General lost the appeal, the panel did not immediately order them to pay the company’s legal costs as it solicited written submissions on the issue.

The AG’s Office was represented by Reginald Armour, SC, Michael Quamina and Sean Julien, while Seenath Jairam, SC, and Kirk Bengochea represented the board.

Desalcott was represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Rishi Dass and Nyree Alfonso.

Douglas Mendes, SC and Imran Ali represented the OWTU.