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Appeal Court sets aside judge’s ruling on bank accounts for trade unions


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THE COURT of Appeal has set aside a judge’s ruling that a requirement for a trade union to have a bank account was illegal.

In November, Justice Joan Charles granted several declarations to a former bank worker whose challenge of his dismissal was stymied by an illegal policy of the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board.

Apart from ruling that the policy was illegal, she also ordered the board to certify that Mitoonlal Persad was a member in good standing with the Sanctuary Workers Trade Union.

In her ruling, Charles said the board’s requirement that Persad and the union comply with a practice note “was to debar any trade union from operating without a bank account,” when this was not prescribed by the Industrial Relations Act (IRA).

However, on Wednesday, Justices of Appeal Gregory Smith, Malcolm Holdip and Vasheist Kokaram said Charles’s findings were wrong.

In an oral decision, Smith, who delivered it, said the evidence in the case did not support the judge’s conclusion on the RRCB’s policy.

Charles had said the act only provided that a worker should be a member in good standing of a union and that the union followed sound accounting procedures and practices. She said introducing the requirement for a union to have a bank account was illegal, as it breached the act.

However, Smith said the court was excluded from expounding on the board’s functions as set out in the act. He said the board was the sole authority to set out, interpret and apply the provisions of the act, though a court can enquire into decisions that were ultra vires or in breach.

“All questions about membership and good standing shall be determined by the board,” he said.

Smith said Charles was wrong when she deemed the RRCB’s policy ultra vires, setting aside that decision.

He also said the RRCB had no duty after making a decision, but had to ensure the complaining party knew the allegations against them and was given an opportunity to make representations, and fairly consider them.

In this case, he said the parties knew the allegations against them – that the lack of a bank account could be in breach of the board’s procedures to follow sound accounting procedures and practices – so there was no breach of natural justice.

The judges also dismissed Persad and Sanctuary’s judicial-review application.

Persad had asked the court to review the board’s decision to deem him not in good standing with the union because the latter did not have a bank account when he tried to challenge his dismissal from RBC in 2019 in the Industrial Court.

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He complained that the decision deprived him of the right of access to justice.

Both Persad and the union took the board to court, arguing there was no prevailing standard accounting practice that mandates any organisation to have a bank account.

The RRCB was represented by attorney Coreen Findley.Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan represented Persad and Sanctuary. The union intends to appeal the decision to the Privy Council.

In evidence before the court, Devant Maharaj, president of the union, had said when the union was incorporated in 2017, as a new trade union its membership was small, and a bank account was not required at that stage.

He said the board had inspected the union’s written books and records and raised no issue on the accuracy or authenticity of the records.

Maharaj also said at no time did the board say the union was in breach of the IRA and a practice note meant to ensure compliance with the act.

The board’s evidence was that the note reinforced the longstanding practice that a union should deposit fees and contributions into a bank account and have evidence of the transactions. This, it maintained, made for transparency and proper and sound financial accountability and eliminated the potential for fraudulent activities associated with money.

In her ruling, Charles said she agreed with Persad and the union’s attorneys that the board practice was ultra vires Section 34 of the IRA.