Around and around we go at the behest of our trade unions
Trade unions in Barbados really need to guard against the appearance that they are taking workers for a ride, and, in the case of the nearly 200 retrenched NCC employees, along a dreary, obscure and desolate track to nowhere, highlighted by human pain and suffering.
Last month, representatives of both the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) would have sat for well over three hours and agreed with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the management of the NCC to have that dispute referred to the Employment Rights Tribunal for immediate settlement.
At the time, the Prime Minister would have given the assurance the retrenchment issue would be the tribunal’s top priority since, in his estimation,
“a number of missteps were made in the process”.
The NUPW’s general secretary Dennis Clarke even gave a timeline for the tribunal’s ruling of the following Friday.
But, alas, a month has since passed and not a hearing, much less sight of a settlement from the said tribunal!
In fact, we have only heard of one meeting summoned by the nine-member panel to date. It was called to discuss the terms of reference for the tribunal, but in the end the BWU was a no-show, leaving the NUPW’s assistant general secretary Delcia Burke with little to say except that she was a bit concerned the entire process would take longer than anticipated.
No surprise there.
What was more puzzling was a subsequent statement issued by the BWU general secretary Sir Roy Trotman in which he said his union wanted to ensure that “when the tribunal begins its work, it does so with a very clear picture of what it should be doing, by proceeding along the lines set out by the legislation and the schedules, and underpinned by normal natural and accepted industrial relations protocols and practices”.
He added: “At the same time, we are very conscious that NCC workers have suffered tremendous pain and suffering because of what was, in our view, an act of bad faith on the part of the NCC.
“We believe that this has caused significant pain and suffering to the workers and we feel that action should be taken speedily to resolve the issue, and we have asked that those meetings be held without undue delay.”
It begs the question: what did the union really discuss in its meeting with the Prime Minister?
And why are the unions now flip-flopping again on the NCC matter?
Both the NUPW and the BWU are on record this week as saying that they would now wish to abandon the tribunal process and return to the bargaining table for direct negotiations with the NCC on the matter of the NCC layoffs.
The BWU made known its latest change of heart following a meeting of its NCC bargaining committee on Monday, while the NUPW’ president Walter Maloney spoke in an interview with Barbados TODAY yesterday.
Said Maloney: “We have started to engage the tribunal, but I don’t think that we would be too averse if the other side [the NCC] decides, ‘Well, look fellas, let’s sit down so that we could resolve this matter’. I don’t think we’d be too averse . . . . But the overture certainly would have to come from them.”
He continued: “People can change their minds, positions can become relaxed over a period of time. Time is a healer; so sometimes after people look back at their positions over time, maybe they might feel that they took an action that might have warranted a different direction.”
We really need to stop this merry-go-round for the sake of the affected workers.
Our understanding at the time when the dispute was first sent to the Labour Department for mediation was that there was a complete breakdown in trust and that there was no room left for direct bargaining between the two sides.
So to hear top officials of either union now proposing a return to the negotiating table is a joke.
It is also a slap in the face of the workers, and indeed the Prime Minister, as well as the tribunal.
That the dispute even made it to the level of the tribunal was on account of the stance taken by the union in the first place so the unions need not behave as if it were a “new phase” in industrial relations that was foisted on them or that they were not party to.
That the union had obtained better results using the voluntarist model, compared to the route of industrial courts and tribunals, as pointed out by Mr Maloney, should have been considered from the outset.
And that the unions would have rather remained in the voluntarist arena, they should have said so before. Not after the fact!
Neither the workers nor the country can afford this kind of unnecessary posturing.