No Hearing or Appeal before UTT Fired Lecturers

Submitted by Dr Kumar Mahabir

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.

Dr Judy Rocke

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.

3 thoughts on “No Hearing or Appeal before UTT Fired Lecturers

  1. @ Doctor Mahabir.

    This submission chronicles the state of affairs much better than the one before if my recollection serves me well.

    I am getting old so the brain cells …

    It becomes clear to this layman that the process thst you are afforded by the University was unilaterally breached UNLESS YOU HAD INDIVIDUAL CONTRACTS WHICH PROVIDED FOR OTHER OBSERVATIONS

    Let the ole man suggest this for a strategy for these sorts of public campaigns.

    All of you who are party to the suit have to become your own campaigners and ANONYMICE

    THAT term was a name given to anonymous bloggers who use a nom de plume and blister the targets with all the ambition they have

    You are fighting you case in the court of public opinion with the hope that all and sundry see your matter and speak out.

    Your hope being thst the ventilation reaches a crescendo and that the powers that be relent.

    I was wondering thought why you posted here on BU given that you are in Trinidad and Tobago.

    Maybe you are thinking that your bajan counterparts will come forward in solidarity with you?

    I pray you continued success for your cause.

    I will see if de grandson could do you a Stoopid Cartoon to assist your cause.

    He will need some pictures though which will show your protests and things like that

    Pictures of the persons that you wish to highlight their parts in the fiasco.

    People don’t like their pictures about the place in the middle of controversial issues.

    Post the pictures on imgur and put a link here and de grandson will use the ones that he wants

    Based on what you outlined it will make an interesting and emotive Stoopid Cartoon to advance your cause

    De ole man would let you know in advance that one Mariposa going want royalties…that is a local joke that the Honourable Blogmaster will share with you

  2. Pingback: UTT Staff Retrenched | Barbados Underground

Leave a comment, join the discussion.