Mon | Mar 4, 2024

Orville Taylor | Brown vs bored of educators

Published:Sunday | December 3, 2023 | 12:09 AM

With the creation of the new ministry with a long name, it does appear that it is focusing on the antecedents which lead to the production of criminal elements and violent behaviour in the society. With great pride I watched my colleague, anthropologist Herbert Gayle, last Wednesday on All Angles on TVJ as he brought to the public some of the tip of the fingers knowledge that our research at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, has been pointing to.

A ‘Ministry of Peace and Human Development’ epitomises the essence of what sociologists, anthropologists, social workers, human resource development specialists and psychologists have studied and addressed for years. At least since the late 1980s on the plantation, we had the conversations and then multiple conferences and private conversations. For those of us, privileged with media presence, in the interest of the nation, we hosted internal and external guests, elucidating the body of knowledge on the plantation which could and should be used.

The word ‘privilege’ is not accidental; because responsible academic activists bring the change that we want to see. Speech and research are not action, and we, as our dearly departed Professor Barry Chevannes and others coached us; “must walk the talk” and make our lives, action and practice be aligned and ultimately for the good of the people.

Contrary to the unfortunate moniker given by the late great Wilmot ‘Mutty’ Perkins, UWI is no intellectual ghetto. Of course, being a product of a garrison community myself, where some of the best people I know come from and whose resourcefulness are beyond question, Mutty was actually giving us the underclass an honourable mention.

DEMONSTRATE BEST PRACTICES

With the brightest set of people crammed into a very small space, UWI Mona must be able to demonstrate to the Jamaican public that its best practices, research and applications are the envy of the rest of the enterprises in this country. After all, unless you eat from your own restaurants, no one will think your food is good.

UWI Mona is a sociological enigma. It is bordered by the affluent communities of Hope Pastures and Mona. However, a large percentage of its staff, students and small business operators and others, who simply depend economically on the institution, live in the garrisons of August Town, Stand Pipe, Hermitage, Tavern and Kintyre. Practice and research tell people like Gayle, Claudette Crawford Brown, Horace Levy, and many others, that among the absolutely worst things you can do to members of those communities or their relatives is to treat them unfairly.

Just in case one missed my commentary over the last few weeks, the body of research and the history of Jamaica itself establish a strong causal line between the absence of access to justice at the workplace and residual violence on the other hand. Long before the International Labour Organization (ILO) coined the expression ‘decent work’, we long knew in this country that might doesn’t make right and the consequences of maintaining injustice, simply because we are powerful enough to do it, are too great for the society on the whole to bear.

On Friday, I sat and read The Gleaner report regarding a longstanding case involving former UWI employee Donovan Brown, over his allegations that the university unjustifiably dismissed him. For those of us who study the field, it is important for the public to know that the university was right and just in its actions; not whether or not it did what its power allowed it to do. One of UWI’s former senior persons in administration has served as a vice president of the Jamaica Employers’ Federation, whose mandate includes guiding employers along the lines of best workplace practices.

In its wisdom, the Jamaican Parliament comprising two ‘labour’ parties, passed a Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act (LRIDA) in 1975, initiated as a bill under the Hugh Shearer-led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government in 1971.

INDUSTRIAL PEACE

In the middle of an undeclared civil war, knowing that justice denied in the most homicidal anglophone country in the world was a prescription for high levels of social violence, the entire schema of the LRIDA is for the maintenance of industrial peace. Critically, therefore, the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) was created. Based on social consensus, with tripartite panels nominated from employers, unions and government, it is a pivotal part of our system of industrial democracy.

Were it not for the IDT or the fact that workers now have increased access via the 2010 amendment, all manners of canines, not just dogs, would be eating our breakfast and lunch.

The decision of the court in denying Brown access to the IDT, to have his matter interrogated, is on cursory examination ‘good law’. However, it is socially horrendous and potentially does great violence to the reputation of the university, which should be seen as a prime exemplar of justice. Its members rioted when Walter Rodney was banned and many other times.

In this case, which I believe ought to be well discussed and debated by industrial relations practitioners and lawyers alike, to build up scholarship and knowledge, the Court of Appeal held that the Ministry of Labour could not properly send Brown’s dispute to the Tribunal, because a critical stage of the internal grievance procedure of the UWI, the University Visitor, was bypassed. Noteworthy, the current University Visitor was appointed after Brown’s dismissal, and therefore, according to his terms of appointment, cannot interrogate matters pre-existing his jurisdiction. This is a no-brainer. However, the previous Visitor, whom I believe was Her Majesty, certainly cannot posthumously decide the matter.

So, whose interest will it serve if this matter cannot be sent to a higher body than the university, so that Jamaica and future generations of UWI aficionados can say that ‘UWI acted rightly and justly?’ And what does that tell the rest of the population? In any other college, university or school, Brown would have had a smooth recourse to either the Services Commissions or the IDT, and if he was ‘wrong’ or ‘wronged’; justice would be served either way.

Unfortunately, the University, which did willingly participate in conciliation meetings at the Ministry of Labour, might very well be hamstrung by its very own rules. It certainly is now up to Brown and his attorneys to determine the next step forward, and I imagine that the West Indies Group of University Teachers, as well as the other on campus unions must have a keen interest in how this is resolved.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.