They who dropped that ball!
The deafening silence from the Employment Rights Tribunal, still to adjudicate the controversial dismissal of close to 200 workers of the National Conservation Commission (NCC), reverberates as a serious case of dereliction of duty.
More than six months ago, the nine-member body was mandated by no lesser than Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to hear the cases of the workers who were unceremoniously handed their walking papers as part of the Government’s restructuring exercise to cut 3,000 public servants.
Mr Stuart, who was forced to intervene after Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo and the top brass of the Labour Department failed to settle the bitter wrangling between the NCC management and the workers’ bargaining agents the National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Workers’ Union, said then that the retrenchment issue would be the tribunal’s top priority since “a number of missteps were made in the process”.
Those “missteps” related to claims from the union that the NCC management did not stick to the “last in, first out” principle agreed upon. Some workers with more than 20 years’ service were placed on the breadline, while those employed for less than three years were kept.
But we are left to wonder if the tribunal’s priorities do not line up with the Prime Minister’s, given its inordinately long delay to hear the matter.
And shouldn’t the Prime Minister, who referred the matter to the tribunal, step in again to pressure the body to give an account of its actions, or lack thereof?
From the outset, the tribunal did not give a timeline for the start of the hearings, and to date there is no schedule.
Surely, it would be reasonable to assume that the body which was set up to ensure workers are fairly treated in cases of dispute would seek a speedy resolution in the interest of the employees and the other parties involved. Not only on the NCC matter, but for the other 70 cases still to be heard.
What thought, if any, has been given to the emotional and financial distress the empty-handed workers have suffered since being sent home at the end of April? While no retrenchment exercise is ever painless, this situation has left too many an open wound.
It is now long overdue for a solution and it’s time for the Minister of Labour to remedy a situation in which there are clear questions to be answered.
It is incumbent too on the Ministry of Labour to clear the air on whether it provided all the necessary means for the tribunal to begin its work and whether it communicated the urgent need for the NCC matter to be resolved.
And, most importantly, is the current panel of the Employment Rights Tribunal up to the challenge of dealing with these pressing issues on its plate? Frankly, its inaction does little to engender public belief and confidence.
And then there are the actions of the unions, which cannot escape the scrutiny of the beleaguered workers and the skeptical gaze of John Public. Questions are being raised as to whether the BWU and the NUPW have not disappointed its own members by failing to keep the pressure on the Government to get the tribunal up and running.
The former NCC workers must have serious concerns about the unions’ performance after six months of waiting for justice –– with their future hanging in the balance.
In the court of public opinion, the Employment Rights Tribunal has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.
In fact, all the parties involved –– the unions and Government officials –– have dropped the ball; but we earnestly hope that with the end of the year fast approaching, NCC workers will not be left waiting in vain.