Due process was not followed by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) in dismissing about 70 lecturers on May 11, 2018. On that day, I was one of eleven who were wrongly and arbitrarily fired from the Centre for Education Programmes (CEP) as part of the University’s stated “restructuring exercise.”
Due process is a fundamental principle of fairness which should be followed before dismissing workers, including instructors, teachers, lecturers and professors. It is a universal procedure which must be afforded to each individual – in an orderly sequence of steps – to avoid prejudicial or unequal treatment culminating in court action against a company, organisation or institution.
The steps of this process include the following: (i) consultation with the affected employee, (ii) prior notice of dismissal, (iii) presentation of evidence by the employer, (iv) opportunity for the employee to respond, (v) representation of the employee by an attorney, (vi) notice of dismissal, (vii) the right to appeal, and (viii) the right to judicial review.
The dismissal was too abrupt. Done without consultation, and any prior oral or written notice, my attorney, Roshni Balkaran, described this sudden dismissal as “an ambush.” This was summary dismissal i.e. termination of employment without any prior notice or hearing. Labour and employment regulations stipulate that notice must be given at least 30 days before the effective date of termination. There was no notice to apprise us of the grounds or reasons for which our dismissals were being inflicted.
No opportunity to be heard before dismissal
The UTT unleashed plain dismissal at the same moment of notification. No prior notice of dismissal was afforded to us as well as no opportunity to be heard before a duly constituted Faculty Committee or Faculty Senate. This misstep by the UTT was a breach of statutory and constitutional due process. Usually, workers identified to be dismissed are given 10 or 15 days for a fair and meaningful hearing.
The Legal Services Department of the National Education Association in Missouri in the USA explains the due process of a hearing by a teacher who has been given notice of dismissal:
“At a termination hearing, the teacher may be represented by legal counsel and may cross-examine witnesses called by the board against the teacher.”
No hearing from UTT President and Minister of Education
We were never given an opportunity by the UTT administration to be heard or to appeal our dismissal. On May 14th 2018 about 2.00 p.m, we went to UTT’s Head Office in O’Meara to meet President Sarim Al-Zubaidy. We were accompanied by Mr. Devant Maharaj, the President of Sanctuary Workers’ Trade Union, who has been representing us.
We informed Al-Zubaidy’s Secretary that we had been summarily dismissed and wanted to seek an urgent meeting with him for an identification and explanation of what criterion was used to terminate our employment. She said he was not in the building. We told her that we would nevertheless camp outside his office until he came.
Four UTT security guards surrounded us. It was reported by one UTT staff that the TTPS Police were called to beef up security. The TTPS Police were parked outside the main entrance waiting. We stood our ground peacefully outside Al-Zubaidy’s office door for more than an hour. Then President Al-Zubaidy mysteriously emerged from his office under heavy security. He refused to talk to each one of us individually. We were armed with our individual teaching timetable to show him that we were not “surplus” lecturers teaching two and three students in two and three classes as the Minister of Education was broadcasting to the media.
President Al-Zubaidy agreed to meet only one female lecturer in his private office. She outlined her case and he basically told her that he could do nothing to reverse her dismissal. Al-Zubaidy said that he assumed that our immediate supervisor, Dr Judy Rocke, had used “the Staff Loading Model” (SLM) criteria to dismiss eleven of us from a staff of about 100 lecturers. That was not the case as we will prove in court. We had never heard of SLM.
On May 16th 2018, we sought a higher authority in the Minister of Education to get a hearing of our wrongful dismissal. We staged a peaceful, sit-down, hunger protest with a placard from 6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. on the street pavement in front of the Ministry of Education in St. Vincent Street in Port of Spain. Minister Anthony Garcia never responded to our request to meet us in his office.
On May 17th 2018, we staged another protest at the Prime Minister’s Office in St Clair and the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre at La Fantasie Road in St Ann’s. Our union representative, Devant Maharaj, also sent a written request to Al-Zubaidy for a hearing and an appeal.
Dr. Mahabir taught several courses at UTT including Written Communication.