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We could not ignore an illegal act - Atkinson

Published:Wednesday | June 3, 2015 | 1:47 PMEdmond Campbell
Attorney General Patrick Atkinson

ATTORNEY GENERAL Patrick Atkinson says the Government did not take a hard-line approach when it took out an injunction from the Supreme Court Tuesday night, ordering protesting members of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) back to work, but noted that it was obliged to ensure that the police do not break the law.

Atkinson told The Gleaner that it was illegal for members of the police force to take strike action as it was outlawed in the Jamaica Constabulary Force Act.

He said the Government could not ignore an illegal act carried out by the police, as it would send a wrong signal to the country.

"A government can't sit back and be selective in how it applies the law. We have to apply it across the board. When the Junior Doctors did it, the injunction was there. We can't see something publicly announced which is unlawful and do nothing about it," Atkinson insisted.

no ill intent

He stressed that the decision to order the police back to work was not done maliciously or threateningly.

In a statement, the attorney general cautioned that if the police refused to return to work they would be in contempt of court and could be liable to having their assets confiscated.

The attorney general yesterday appealed to members of the JCF to return to the negotiating table with the Government in an attempt to reach an agreement that was in the best interest of the country.

"Really and truly, we need to talk; we need to sit down and try to iron out our differences. We want a settlement ... something that the police can find acceptable and which the Government has the ability to comply with," he told The Gleaner yesterday.

Hundreds of police personnel stayed off the job yesterday, for a second day, to back their demands for an improved wage and fringe-benefits offer, following a breakdown in talks between the Jamaica Police Federation and the Ministry of Finance.

bona-fide sick leave

However, Atkinson pointed out that the injunction did not apply to anyone who was on bona-fide sick leave. He said it puts police personnel on notice that they should be in a position to prove that any sickness that they have, was, in fact, genuine and not a part of a labour protest.

"When 1,000 people or a substantial part of a workforce just suddenly stops in the midst of a labour dispute it is obvious to everyone what is taking place," he said.

In an apparent response to the court injunction, The Gleaner received a purported correspondence from the Police Federation to rank and file members, wishing that they would get well soon and urging them to take their medications as prescribed.

Making reference to the court injunction taken out against executives of the Police Federation for its members to stop their protest action, the body representing the police said sick persons cannot go back to work until they get better.

The federation has indicated that it would meet with Minister with Responsibility for the Public Service Horace Dalley tomorrow, to continue negotiations.