NCC layoffs was never a tribunal issue, says Mottley
Leader of the Opposition Mia Mottley believes Prime Minister Freundel Stuart erred when he referred the dismissal of close to 200 workers at the National Conservation Commission (NCC) to the Employment Rights Tribunal back in May.
In her estimation, the matter was never an issue for the nine-member body, but was always one for the Government and the trade unions.
She spoke today against the backdrop of the resignation of eight tribunal members, which has left the workers in a state of despair.
Mottley has therefore joined in calls for the immediate reinstatement of the sacked NCC employees, along with workers at the Transport Board as a matter of urgency.
She told reporters today after a media luncheon held at the Opposition’s office in Parliament building that in the spirit of the season, Government should do the right thing and rehire the workers as suggested yesterday by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
“I agree entirely with the NUPW’s position on that and I have said so from day one,” said Mottley, who also accused the Government of betraying the workers.
“Seven months ago we said that this was going to be a ‘never-never’ promise to the workers. The right and moral thing to do is to reinstate them, especially since many of them were separated in breach of the legitimate expectation that the Prime Minister gave the country when he said ‘last-in, first-out’ and all sole bread winners would be protected,” Mottley argued.
The Opposition leader stressed that the Government had a responsibility not to discriminate and should treat all workers fairly.
She also called on them to show the length of tenure of the people who were still employed at the statutory corporation and the ones who had gone home, while stating that she was aware of instances where people had been treated badly.
“Up to last night I met a man in the supermarket, he had seven years. He trained people who are still in there at the NCC. It’s not right, it’s not fair. And in the spirit of the season I would ask the Government to reconsider; to reinstate the NCC workers, particularly, and the others who are affected, and let us do the right thing, in the right way.”
The Barbados Labour Party leader further charged that there were relatives of Government members with “less years” who were still working at the Transport Board and the NCC.
She therefore questioned: “How can you give confidence to the workers that there was a transparent process when that is the case?”
Mottley also argued that their plight was never a tribunal issue but a Government and trade union matter.
“I think a tribunal is relevant more so for individual cases, but where you have a collective position, where you have mass layoffs, in breach of policy directives the Prime Minister gave in September 2013, [it is not necessary],” she argued.
The Opposition Leader recalled that “the Prime Minister came on television and told the country that his Government would pursue a policy of last-in, first-out [and] his Government would pursue a policy of sole bread winners being protected and that we would see that kind of caring approach to the issue of layoffs”.
However, “what we see, particularly at the NCC and Transport Board has been the total opposite. And then there are people at the NHC [National Housing Corporation] who have more than ten years but who are not being allowed to be treated as pensionable when the law says that they should [be].
“Now individual cases like that may be better handled by the tribunal, but the collective cases like the mass layoffs at the NCC and Transport Board, it was never a tribunal issue. It was a moral, political and industrial issue for the Government, the Executive, and the union to resolve in the way that Barbadians have known best for over 75 years,” Mottley stressed.
Contending that Government had approached the issue in the wrong way from inception, she said “they have started wrong treating it as an arithmetical exercise like they had a cutlass running wild . . . [ and] cutting here, cutting there, not being cognizant of the consequences to the country”.
As a result, she said the island was now faced with negative consequences, arguing that “when you take people who are accustomed clearing drains . . . [and] de-bushing, what you do is leave a country to run to bush.
“When you run to bush and drains clog up, what do you have? Mosquitoes in wet season and rats in dry season,” she added.