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Recognizing the union

in your interest


In Barbados the voluntarist system of industrial relations is practised. This allows for a relationship to exist between the employer and the trade union, where
the employer voluntary recognizes the union, and the parties relate to each other without recourse to any legal procedures.

As a consequence of this, workers through their trade unions and staff associations, engage the employer or the employer organization in determining the terms and conditions of their relationship. The culture is to build a relationship that is driven by the recognition of customs and practice and not by the force of law.

The process starts with the recognition of trade unions. This requires the existence of a bargaining unit at the workplace. Under the Constitution Of Barbados, every citizen enjoys freedom of association. With this being the case, the individual has the right to or not to join a trade union of choice, as he/she may determine.

The basis for the relationship and engagement between the employer and the trade union as the workers’ representative is the establishment of what is known as a bargaining unit. Herein lies the challenge, as it requires 50+1 of the employees to be members of the trade union, if a bargaining unit is to be established and the trade union is to be recognized by the employer as the bargaining agent for the employees.

Contracts formed are binding in honour only, as they are not enforceable by law. There are no legally defined processes and procedures or issues for negotiation. The resulting collective agreement tends to cover four main areas: wages, hours and standards of work, contract implementation procedures, and a grievance and disciplinary procedure.

In other parts of the Caribbean where industrial courts have been established, such as Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and the Bahamas, statutory trade union recognition applies.

This means that trade union recognition is enforceable law.

In Barbados where an issue over voluntary trade union recognition is referred to the Chief Labour Officer, his role is to mediate in the process.

History will however recall that in 1997, there was the matter of recognition between the Barbados Workers’ Union and Royal Westmoreland Ltd. The company denied the union recognition on the grounds that the union did not have the majority membership. The matter of recognition was resolved through the intervention of a private citizen, after nine days of union action.

Neither party had called on the Chief Labour Officer to offer conciliation. The company agreed to reinstate terminated workers and to recognize the union as the bargaining agent for the workers.

There was also the case of Offshore Keyboarding, an enterprise which was located in the Harbour Industrial Estate. This company refused to recognize the Barbados Workers’ Union as the bargaining agent. It challenged the survey method that has been entrenched as custom and practice in Barbados.

The company wanted the use of a secret ballot. All elements of the Social Partners in Barbados affirmed the custom and practice as exist and admonished the company to comply. The company refused and eventually withdrew from Barbados.

Where a matter of dispute on trade union recognition is drawn to the attention of the Chief Labour Officer, the following process is to be engaged:

(1) On receipt of claim for recognition by the union, the employer requests the Labour Department to conduct a survey. The Labour Department then contacts the employer requesting the employer to provide the list of employees in the categories in which the union is seeking recognition. Where the employer does not make the request, the union may so do or the Labour Department, of its own motion may request compliance of the employer. This list should correspond to the payroll list and employee classification.

(2) When this employer list is received 

by the Labour Department, the Labour Department notifies the union and arranges a meeting at its premises, in which the totality of the union’s list, always in card form is presented by the union.

(3) This list provided by the union constitutes the bona fide/signed up membership of employees of the particular enterprise.

(4) All members and officials associated with that union are then requested to leave the room so as to provide absolute privacy to the Labour Department officers who are conducting the survey.

The union’s list is then checked and purged for any anomalies or inconsistencies, for example:

(a) Whether employee names on the list provided by the company check out or match those on union’s list;

(b) Whether there are membership signatures after effective date of recognition claim by union;

(c) Whether the numbers tally, either by category or overall, and so on.

(d) Any anomalies or unusual findings are noted for study or query or explanation by either party, when thought necessary;

(e) The union’s list is then checked off by matching against the employer’s list and the numbers are recorded;

(f) A record is made and both parties are informed as to the numbers in the findings.

Bearing in mind that Barbados has ratified the ILO Convention #87, Concerning Freedom Of Association And Protection Of The Right To Organize, the trade union by seeking recognition is attempting to ensure that workers access the right to which they are entitled.


(Dennis De Peiza is labour management consultant to Regional Management Services Inc.
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