Duke files suit against the PSA

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Duke files suit against the PSA

Watson Duke says he is facing bankruptcy due to a refusal by the Public Services Association (PSA) to pay him his pension.

As such, he is now suing the union he once led as president.

Duke, who is now the political leader of the Progressive Democratic Patriots, filed the lawsuit earlier in June and is asking declarations that his rights and contract of employment were breached by the PSA’s refusal to pay his pension.

His attorneys, Chelsea Edwards and Farai Hove Masaisai said: “As a result of the delayed pension payments, the claimant has been unable to meet his financial obligations, leading to unpaid debts and legal actions from creditors, including banks, over nonpayment of loans and credit cards.

“The claimant is now facing the imminent risk of being declared bankrupt by the courts due to his inability to pay his debts.

“If declared bankrupt, the claimant fears that he will be prevented from participating in the upcoming general elections…”

“This would cause irreparable harm to the claimant’s political career and deprive the electorate of their choice of representative.

“The claimant, as the political leader of the PDP and a career politician, must remain free from bankruptcy to fairly compete in all upcoming elections in Trinidad and Tobago.”

The Representation of the People Act disqualifies anyone declared bankrupt from holding office in a registered party.

Duke, who was the PSA’s president from November 2009-December 2021, is seeking compensation of $729,833.33 as special damages and $25,166.67 as continued payment of his regular monthly pension benefits of two-thirds of his former salary, starting from June 20.

His lawsuit said the PSA’s general council passed resolutions to allow for the terms of conditions of employment of a president to be parallel to that of a permanent secretary in the Public Service.

It recounted changes to the pension scheme which dealt with the qualifying age requirement for benefits for full-time officers and increases in pension sums from 50 per cent to two-thirds of final salary. The resolutions also set the criteria for when full-time officers would be eligible for a pension, which is after ten years’ continuous full-time service for the PSA and four years’ full-time service in a particular position.

Duke’s lawsuit said when he left the PSA, at 45, he had not yet reached the retiring age of 50, which is optional, or 60, which is compulsory.

However, it said it was agreed between himself and PSA president Leroy Baptiste that he would receive his pension benefits according to the 2009 resolutions which provided for payment of two-thirds of the final salary and parity with similar public-service positions.

Duke’s claim alleged Baptiste gave assurances that Duke would be paid according to the 2009 resolutions. In early 2022, the lawsuit said the two met and assurances and commitments were given to settle the payment of the pension. The two again had the same conversation in early 2023.

The lawsuit contends that the PSA sought a legal opinion which, in Duke’s view, does not align with the contractual obligations of the union for executive officers.

Duke again met with Baptiste in March 2024, expressing his “strong disapproval” of the non-payment of his pension benefits.

“This contractual term cannot be unilaterally varied by the defendant.

“The defendant’s General Council increased the pension benefits to full-time officers of the defendant.

“It removed the age requirement that officers had to be 50 years old to be entitled to the payment of their pension (and) sought to create parity in the benefits accorded to public servants who hold the positions as those full-time officers in the defendant.

“Therefore, pension payments to all full-time officers of the Public Services Association (were) amended from the present formula of 50 per cent to that of two-thirds of final salary in keeping with the present calculation in the public-sector environment.”

It added, “The failure of the defendant to pay the claimant his pension has amounted to a breach of the terms and conditions of employment between the claimant and the defendant.”

The lawsuit further contends although there were attempts to rescind the resolutions on pensions, when Duke assumed the position, they were in effect and constituted a contractual term of his office.

“This contractual term cannot be unilaterally varied by the PSA.”

It said having increased an employee’s benefit, the PSA could not now renege on that decision to the employee’s detriment.

Duke’s claim also accused Baptiste of inaction which has led to his financial hardship.

“The defendant was unjustly enriched by the withholding of the claimant’s rightful pension benefits which were to be paid from January of the year 2022.

“As the claimant’s pension benefits are considered earned compensation for his tenure at the defendant, the claimant has a legal right to receive those benefits.

“The claimant has now been without his pension for two years without any lawful justification, while on the other hand the defendant has retained those sums due and owing to the claimant causing the claimant to suffer substantial and consequential losses.”

The lawsuit said Duke’s net pay was $36,880.10, which included commuted, duty, housing and phone allowances.

It also said in May, Duke was told he had to settle $130,807.06 on his credit card and had been unable to pay his full mortgage instalment since January.

“The claimant has suffered emotional distress as a result of the actions of the defendant. The claimant’s financial difficulties have impacted his family life and his ability to meet his household expenses.

“The claimant has since become stressed, depressed and anxious because of the repeated attempts to recover the monies owed to him.”