Sugar workers back on the job tomorrow
Production at the island’s lone sugar factory will resume tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock, as initial losses from the strike that crippled the industry climbed to nearly $300,000.
This was revealed by an exhausted-looking General Manager of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), Leslie Parris, after emerging from about nine hours of back-and-forth meetings at the Labour Department, under the chairmanship of Minister of Labour, Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo.
Parris told reporters after 1 o’clock this morning that he was relieved that an agreement had finally been reached and there would be a resumption of the work which came to a halt last Thursday as Portvale Sugar Factory workers downed tools in solidarity with workers who were sent home when Andrews Sugar Factory closed earlier this month.
But even as he praised Minister Suckoo for being able to broker the deal, the BAMC general manager noted that there were some unresolved issues which would be discussed next week.
“In the interim, the crop will continue,” he assured.
However, Parris said here would be a reduction in production as a result of the strike.
“We estimate that there is approximately 860 tonnes of sugar in the yard of Portvale alone and another 500 at the weighing station which we will have to process immediately and will attempt to salvage as much of that as we can. That will most likely end up being molasses, which is the cheaper of the two, which is the price that we could sell at,” the BAMC executive pointed out.
“Also, we propose to immediately continue to process approximately 600 tonnes of sugar, which would be in the processing house as we speak. So those would be our two priorities over the next three to four days.”
He revealed that up to this morning, financial losses to the BAMC alone, was about $286,000. However, he explained this would have to be reviewed to reflect the overall fallout since the losses of independent farmers were not factored in at this time.
Asked about the readiness of the equipment at the lone operating factory, Parris said when the strike started,it was working well and he hoped the same would obtain for resumption tomorrow morning, considering it was aging equipment.
Meantime, he reported that although the talks over the past few days were at times robust, representatives on both sides always dealt strictly with principle and were never insulting.
General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union, Sir Roy Trotman, who also praised Minister Suckoo for her strength in spearheading an agreement, was pleased with the terms of the settlement.
He explained that even though the joint accord did not specifically say that the management of the BAMC had apologised as the union was demanding it was, nonetheless, implicit in the language. Sir Roy said he was not asking for anyone to go down on their knees or grovel, but to express respect and recognition of the need to consult with the union before any action was taken against the workers.
“This has to be seen then, not as whether somebody got on their knees and asked for an apology, but it has to be seen in terms of what the parties [are] committed to, and what that means in terms of the relationship and what we were looking for from the relationship for the future,” stated the veteran union leader.
With this in mind, he thought it important to note that both sides had agreed that there were some misunderstandings regarding the redundancy consultative process.
Sir Roy believes the outcome should be a warning to all other employers who wanted to use the Employment Rights Act or any other method to get rid of workers in a “cavalier” manner.
“We said then and we repeat now, for it to be made absolutely clear that a cynical approach which came for just giving persons a certain number of days on the calender in a month, and terminating those persons without endeavouring to treat them more than just beasts of burden, that that was important for us,” the BWU boss insisted.
Sir Roy also outlined a series of outstanding issues which had to be resolved, if the current situation was to be properly addressed between now and April 30 – the deadline agreed to for completion of unsettled matters.
These include: an effective date for separation, including voluntary separation; the skills required to maintain efficiency and proper functioning at Portvale; criteria for employment; need for improvement in labour management; and how there will be effective operational functioning between now and when the new multi-purpose factory is constructed at Andrews.
“I am hoping that goodwill which threatened to be lost during the stoppage…will reassert itself, and that we will all work and work assiduously in the same direction that the BWU and our colleagues were working; that is to make sure that we bring about the best there can be for the industry and for its rehabilitation,” declared Sir Roy.