By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
A NEW strike vote will be held by National Insurance Board workers tomorrow after a Supreme Court judge yesterday overturned Director of Labour John Pinder’s decision to invalidate a previous vote.
Justice Indra Charles, by way of consent between the parties, reversed Mr Pinder’s October 26 decision to nullify the Union of Public Officers (UPO) strike vote because of procedural missteps.
A new poll will be conducted tomorrow between 10am and 4pm, according to Trade Union Congress (TUC) president Obie Ferguson, who represented NIB employees yesterday.
The strike poll was originally scheduled for last Friday at 10am, but was cancelled the day before. At the time, Mr Pinder was said to have deemed the strike vote invalid because there were some technical deficiencies with the application.
However, workers voted in the poll on Friday, unaware it was not deemed valid. According to UPO president Ghion Roach, it was unanimously in favour of a strike.
Due to the invalidation of the strike vote however, NIB employees went on “work to rule”, meaning they will not go beyond their job descriptions in terms of the tasks they perform.
The union consequently launched legal action on the matter, on the basis that Mr Pinder, and ultimately Labour Minister Dion Foulkes, acted “ultra vires” and breached the Industrial Relations Act (IRA).
The union further sought an order of mandamus that would compel the minister to conduct the strike poll. It was successful in its bid yesterday, with Mr Ferguson calling Justice Charles’ ruling a “big day” for the union, its executives and the line staff at NIB.
“The Act is very clear,” he said. “The minister has no statutory powers outside of what the Act provides. He is required by law to attend or to have someone to attend to supervise the poll. Once the union gives him the date, and gives him the time, and gives him the place, he is indeed required to do it.
“The minister certified that on the 21st of October. He can’t cancel a poll verbally or by conversation. The Act doesn’t provide for that. The Act doesn’t provide for the Registrar or the director to do what he did. The Court of Appeal said in no uncertain terms, that the function of the Registrar is administrative. He has no legal authority to change anything.
Mr Ferguson added: “The internal affairs of the union is for the union. It’s not for the minister, it’s not for the director. Their job is statutory. And if they attempt to exceed their authority, the court of law will deal with that situation.
“So the poll is on, the workers are going to vote overwhelmingly to demonstrate their position, and I’m certain the president and his executives will do what trade union leaders tend to do when people fail to negotiate in good faith.”
Mr Roach, meanwhile, said the union’s members stationed in various Family Islands will also be able to vote tomorrow.
“They did not get to vote based on the instructions of the director of labour, however the court ordered that the poll will be conducted, so those members that did not get a chance to vote will get to vote on Friday,” Mr Roach said. “So we’ll continue with what we’ve started, and I’m sure the vote will still be a resounding ‘yes’.”
Last week, NIB employees protested after negotiations for a new industrial agreement failed. Mr Roach said they walked off the job because the union wanted to send a message.
On Sunday, NIB called on the Union of Public Officers to de-escalate its issues to reach an amicable solution that won’t disrupt the pension and other benefit payments to residents who rely on NIB.
The agency said it will continue to cooperate in good faith with its staff union to assist the Ministry of the Public Service and National Insurance to conclude negotiations on a new industrial agreement in an environment where the board has to improve its efficiency targets and better manage administrative costs.