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Sugar workers’ unions appeal dismissed by Caribbean Court of Justice

Last Updated on Tuesday, 31 July 2018, 16:39 by Denis Chabrol

FLASH BACK: Sacked sugar workers at a meeting with several government ministers and other officials.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on Tuesday found that the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (“GAWU”) and National Association of Agricultural, Commercial and Industrial Employees (“NAACIE”) were adequately consulted before the government’s decision to close the Rose Hall and Enmore sugar estates on December 29th, 2017.

GAWU and NAACIE represented most of the workers employed by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (“Guysuco”).

After the Government’s announcement on May 8th, 2017 to close the estates, which would have resulted in the dismissal of thousands of sugar workers; Sattie Basdeo, Trustee of GAWU and Roxanne St. Hill, Trustee of NAACIE challenged the decision in the High Court on the basis that the unions were inadequately consulted. They also contended that their constitutional right to work was breached. However, their action was dismissed by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

The Applicants then turned to the Caribbean Court of Justice seeking special leave to appeal but the Court ordered the parties to include the arguments that would be raised as part of their appeal if the leave was granted. The matter was then heard on July 10, 2018.

The CCJ agreed with the lower courts that there was sufficient consultation, though it did not consider the Commission of Inquiry held in 2015 on the viability of Guysuco to be part of the consultation process. The Court held that the subsequent stakeholder meetings were sufficient consultation. There were three meetings prior to the announcement of the final decision and at one of them, GAWU made a two-hour presentation on the future of Guysuco. The process, according to the Court, was not perfect but satisfied the legal duty to consult in the circumstances.

The Court also found that there was sufficient evidence on record to show that the Applicants had reasonable
notice of Guysuco’s intentions to close, the reasons for closure and the number and categories of workers affected as legally required.

The Court declined to address whether the right to work enshrined in the Constitution was breached as this allegation stemmed from the argument that there was a breach of the duty to consult. Having found that there was no such breach, there was no need to make a determination on the constitutional issue.