The Ministry of Labour has been ordered to reinstate an industrial relations complaint of a former bank worker, which was dismissed because his union used the wrong letterhead on it.
Delivering a judgment at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday, High Court judge Frank Seepersad made the order as he upheld a judicial review claim brought by Sanctuary Workers’ Union and its member Mitoonlal Persad against the ministry.
According to the evidence in the case, Persad and the union first reported his wrongful dismissal dispute with his former employer to the ministry, last year.
However, the dispute was recorded on the union’s letterhead which was endorsed with the name “Sanctuary Trade Union” as opposed to its registered name of “Sanctuary Workers’ Union”. The union is headed by former government minister and political activist Devant Maharaj.
The dispute was initially considered and the ministry’s permanent secretary issued a Certificate of Unresolved Dispute, which was needed to have Persad’s claim against his former employer listed in the Industrial Court. The certificate was eventually rescinded due to the error in the letterhead.
Seepersad, in his 29-page judgement, declared that the ministry and its officials acted irrationally and unreasonably in taking the decision as it had also been served with documents with the correct information before it granted the certificate and revoked it.
Seepersad also set a new legal precedent as he extended the scope of judicial review lawsuits to include an assessment of the proportionality of a decision of a public authority, in circumstances where it (the decision) affects a citizen’s fundamental constitutional rights.
“The court must guard against public authority decisions which are p[predicated upon over technical and rigid positions especially where the said decision impacts or infringes upon a citizen’s fundamental rights,” Seepersad said.
“This court is therefore resolute in its view that Persad ought not to be denied a procedure for redress which is prescribed by law, because of an error in the form of the report which was made to the Ministry and in circumstances where that error occasioned no uncertainty as to the disputing parties and resulted in no hardship, detriment or prejudice upon the defendant,” Seepersad added.
As part of the judgment, Seepersad gave public bodies and officials advice on how to handle similar situations in the future.
“The decision-maker should ultimately adopt a cautious and considered approach and should comprehensively and completely weigh all the relevant factors as well as the possible consequences which the decision may occasion before the decision is made.
The decision must be fair and must relate to a clearly defined objective,” Seepersad said.
He also criticised the permanent secretary for failing to give evidence in the over the ground for his decision.
“The court was left with a feeling of disquiet, as it was not furnished with a proper explanation nor was it told of the material factors which were considered by the permanent secretary when he authored the rescission letter,” Seepersad said.
Persad and the union were represented by Jagdeo Singh, Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh and Rhea Khan.
Reporter: Derek Achong