TTUTA hails Appeal Court ruling on 'immunity' for trade unions

Lynsley Doodhai -
Lynsley Doodhai -

The TT Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) is hailing a Court of Appeal ruling dismissing a complaint by a secondary school principal against one of its former presidents as a victory for trade unions.

On February 27, Justices of Appeal Mark Mohammed, Maria Wilson and Ronnie Boodoosingh dismissed the appeal of Joy Arjoon-Singh, a former principal of the Ste Madeleine Secondary School.

She sued former TTUTA president Lynsley Doodhai, alleging he used his position as the trade union president to make defamatory personal attacks on her at a press conference in 2017, various radio interviews, an advertisement in the newspapers, during protests at the school and invarious newspaper articles. She alleged the “personal and vindictive" attacks on her character were made on 21 occasions.

In 2018, Justice Devindra Rampersad dismissed her defamation claim, upholding Doodhai’s assertion that his statements were observations on the management of the school in his capacity as TTUTA president, and because of the statutory immunity afforded to trade unions from such claims.

Boodoosingh, who wrote the decision, said the judge’s approach was the correct one. He also said he agreed with Rampersad’s assessment of the statements.

Boodoosingh said section 6 of Trade Disputes and Protection of Property Act was clear and protected Doodhai’ statements.

“It is a statutory immunity given to trade unions…The judge examined the nature of the statements and determined they fell within the ambit of his role as president.”

He said the statements, when examined, either concerned the welfare of the teachers or raised questions about the administration of the school.

“It was a patent trade-union function advocating on behalf of its members who are, without doubt, affected by what they may perceive to be maladministration of a school to which they are assigned to teach. It would be legitimate for a trade union to raise those issues with the relevant authority, such as the Ministry of Education or the Teaching Service Commission, to speak about it publicly and to stage lawful protest action as they deem fit.

“All of these activities are properly resident within its powers as a trade union,” Boodoosingh said,

He also said while Arjoon-Singh may feel aggrieved, it was legitimately with the power of the trade union and its president to raise the issues Doodhai did in his calls for investigation and action to be taken.

“Such is the tension that legitimately arises between leaders and trade-union representatives.

“It is regarding such actions, for various historical reasons tied to the development of workers’ rights over time, that the immunity under section 6 applies to allow trade unions to carry out their functions on behalf of their members.

“It is not for the court to disregard the clear meaning of section 6, which protects members and officials in addition to the trade union itself.”

In its statement on February 28, TTUTA president Martin Lum Kin said Tuesday’s decision was important and significant for all trade unions in TT.

“The judgment reinforces the position that any official of a trade union…TTUTA wishes to reassure all its members and the national community that it will continue to act resolutely in the defence and interest of all its members and education generally, without fear or favour, to pursue justice, as was done in this situation.

“TTUTA will continue to promote the cause of education and will not be intimidated, deterred or repulsed from carrying out its legitimate function as the recognised majority union for education professionals.”

Arjoon-Singh was represented by attorneys Edwin Roopnarine and Shanta Balgobin. Ravi Nanga and Vonetta Adams represented Doodhai.


"TTUTA hails Appeal Court ruling on ‘immunity’ for trade unions"

More in this section