Our unions can do better
The new modus operandi of the top leadership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) seems to be to play around with their political friends in the ruling Democratic Labour Party governmental administration; to passively await the administration’s dismissal of public workers; and then to hold a Press conference and make a big public show of angrily and passionately denouncing the dismissals.
One is almost tempted to laugh at the whole pathetic spectacle. But how can you laugh when there are such tragic consequences for innocent and blameless workers, some of whom were rendering service to governmental institutions such as the National Conservation Commission and the National Housing Corporation for as long as 15 years?
I would like the Barbadian people (and workers in particular) to know that if the leaders of our Barbadian trade unions are truly interested in fighting for the workers against unjust mass dismissals, that they have at their disposal a very powerful legal weapon known as the Employment
This act –– which became law in Barbados in the year 2012 –– gives the trade union substantial legal rights in their dealings with employers who are contemplating dismissing a significant number of their employees.
The relevant sections of the act are as follows:
(1) Section 27(1) –– An employee has the right not to be unfairly dismissed by his employer.
(2) Section 30(1) –– A dismissal of an employee contravenes the right conferred on him by Section 27 where the reason for the dismissal . . . is a reason that relates to the . . . political opinion or affiliation . . . of the employee.
(3) Section 31(4) –– Where it is contemplated that the workforce of the business of an employer will be reduced by ten per cent or any significant number, before dismissing an employee, the employer shall
(a) carry out the consultation required by Subsection (6)(b); and
(b) supply the employee or the trade union recognized for the purpose of bargaining on behalf of the employee and the Chief Labour Officer with a written statement of the reasons for and other particulars of, the dismissal.
(4) Section 31(6) –– The consultations referred to in Subsection (4)(a) are consultations with the affected employees or their representative, being consultations conducted in accordance with the following requirements:
(a) the consultation shall commence not later than six weeks before any of the affected employees is dismissed and be completed within a reasonable time;
(b) the consultation shall be in respect of
(i) the proposed method of selecting the employees who are to be dismissed:
(ii) the proposed method of carrying out the dismissals, with due regard to any agreed procedure, including the period over which the dismissals are to take place; and
(iii) any measures that the employer might be able to take to find alternative employment for those who are to be dismissed and to mitigate for them the adverse effects of the dismissals.
Any dismissals that are carried out in contravention of these legal provisions constitute unfair dismissals, and render the employer liable to a legal challenge (and to penalties) under the Employment Rights Act.
The trade unions therefore have a good legal platform on which to proactively fight the workers’ cause in relation to these mass layoffs. Why aren’t they fighting? Why are they waiting until layoffs occur and then publicly bemoaning the fact that the employer did not follow the standard principle of “last in, first out”?
It is really shameful. But, just as the citizens of a country get the Government that they deserve, the members of a trade union also get the leadership they deserve! It is the trade union members, after all, who elected the current leadership of the NUPW.
Something is seriously wrong in several of our Barbadian trade unions, and that “something” needs to be fixed. But it is only the workers who make up the membership of the trade union who can carry out such “fixing”.
I hope and pray that the workers take matters into their own hands and sort out their trade unions, for the institution of the trade union is so important a social one that we simply cannot afford to lose it!
(David Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)