Labour minister chastises Union for striking during talks
The Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer has made it clear that never again would she attempt to mediate any industrial relations dispute while workers involved in that dispute were engaged in industrial action.
The strongly-worded message came last night at the end of eight hours of unsuccessful negotiations between the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the state-owned Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC).
Sanitation workers remained on strike while the talks, mediated by the Minister, were ongoing.
“[What] usually happens in this country is that once we agree to sit across the table, industrial action is suspended,” an emphatic Byer said, stressing that her decision to chair last night’s talks must not be taken as precedence.
“A case was made and I said ‘ok’. What was agreed was that there [would] not have been the escalation today [yesterday] that was intended for today. So it wasn’t escalated, but it continued. That is something again, that is not to happen in this country. Henceforth, we are going back to a situation . . . no industrial action when we are on the table. It can’t work.
“When we sit across the table to talk, we will suspend industrial action. I allowed it, but it cannot be to set a precedence,” the Minister emphasized.
Byer called on both labour and employer to show mutual respect and good faith in their negotiations, and reminded all parties that she could not be called upon to chastise one side for not following process while the other violated the custom.
“We cannot as one partner be calling on one partner to respect the system, respect the voluntaristic system, respect the customs and practice, and then you don’t respect the customs and practice,” she added.
The Minister reminded both sides that, as part of the Social Partnership protocol, all the parties agreed that the island’s industrial harmony was important, and that it was based on the voluntaristic system, which commited everyone to talking.
“Though we have the Employment Rights Act that speaks to consultation under certain circumstances . . . consultation when you are looking to make persons redundant, our voluntaristic system says that when you are making any changes that affect workers, we talk. The word consultation seems to have everbody tie up. We have all gotten tied up [in] knots with this word called consultation
. . . . If consultation is getting us in trouble, let us go back to the simply word we know . . . let us talk,” the Minister of Labour concluded.