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FTU Loses Case

FTU Loses Case
The Fiji Teachers Union headquarters at Berry Road, Suva.
September 12
11:14 2018

The Fiji Teachers Union’s case for its members over contracts and civil service reforms was struck out by the Employment Relations Court in Suva yesterday.

This follows a successful strike-out application by the Attorney-General’s office on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Heritage and Arts.

The judge, Justice Anjala Wati, ruled that the plaintiff’s claim was time barred under the Employment Relations Act (ERA) in that the grievance was not filed within 21 days from the time it first arose.

She dismissed the FTU’s claim and ordered it to pay $2000 in costs to the ministry.

The costs are to be paid within 14 days from the date of the judgement. The  FTU, represented by lawyer Damodaran Nair, had sought declarations that:

  • the ministry had contravened the employment contract of the members of the plaintiff by not renewing their existing contracts as Head of Small, Medium and Large primary and secondary schools;
  • the ministry had contravened the ERA;
  • the ministry acted contrary to the legitimate expectation of the members of the FTU and that its actions were unjustified, discriminatory and in breach of the principles of fair labour practices, * an order that the ministry renewed the contract of the FTU members as heads of the schools in the positions they were in prior to their positions being downgraded.
  • The ministry submitted that:

the cause of action related to a trade dispute that exceeded the jurisdiction of the Employment Relations Court under the Employment Relations Act;

  • Alternatively the action is time barred under the ERA;
  • The claim does not disclose a reasonable cause of action;
  • It is otherwise an abuse of the process of the court.

Bhavna Narayan, who represented the ministry, had earlier told the court that related to a trade dispute and under the Employment Relations Act 2007, the High Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case.

Justice Wati said in essence, the ministry’s claims fell under the definition of the employment grievance therefore, she said that the court had the jurisdiction to hear the matter filed before it.

Mr Nair had said the FTU brought the case because the members were not consulted. He said the FTU had not reported any dispute of interest on the matter.

Mr Nair said they met the time limit to file the case within the 21 days from the date the advice from the Ministry of Civil Service was received that the renewal of contracts in the civil service was automatic subject to good performance.

He told the court that some teachers were demoted from their position and then appointed to act in the same position after the job evaluation exercise without any reason given.

He told the court that the job evaluation addressed the teacher’s position and not the person.

Justice Wati said after the civil service reform exercise and the re-grading of positions and salaries, the members had entered into new contracts of employment in August, 2017. She said in her findings, the action was time barred.

Justice Wati said: “I do not consider it proper to deal with the issue of whether the plaintiff’s claim discloses a reasonable cause of action or is otherwise an abuse of the process of the court.”

“The members of the plaintiff cannot claim a right on the substantive position because they acted on the same after the civil service reform. There is no automatic right to a substantive position because of that.

“The right of the substantive position was taken away in August, 2017, and any claim ought to have been filed within 21 days from August, 2017. It is asserted that the plaintiff is now out of time by almost eight months in lodging or filing the grievance.

“I find that the claim by the plaintiff is barred and has to be struck out.” 

Edited by Naisa Koroi

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