Strike back


by Shawn Cumberbatch

Private sector workers who had intended to take part in the national strike threatened by the Barbados Workers’ Union would have felt it in their pockets.

And while the business community was legally powerless to prevent their employees from going on the picket line, company bosses were told to try to talk their staff out of taking such action, emphasising the negative impact it would have had on their work place and wider economy.

News of this has emerged following Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s recent intervention in the dispute involving the BWU and telecommunications company LIME, which had prompted the action.

Reliable sources told Barbados TODAY that with expectations of what was considered “an uncertain period” companies represented by the Barbados Employers Confederation were informed of the “procedure” they should follow if the strike took place.

A primary bit of advice was an instruction not to pay any of their workers who took part in industrial action.

The news was communicated in a two page circular issued by the BEC after the employers union issued a January 11 press release calling the BWU’s then intended strike “not warranted”.

“Given the current state of industrial unrest, the following recommendations are being made to all employers. Communicate with your employees — in times such as these, having open, frank communication is critical to ensure that matters do not escalate unnecessarily,” the circular said.

“Be sure that you impress on staff the damage which such action can have on the sustainability of not only the company, but the economy of Barbados.

“Ensure that your staff understands that … you are not part of any dispute with the BWU…, you fully intend to be compliant with the legislation and will not penalise them for being part of industrial action once they are a member of a recognised division, … your organisation is under no obligation to compensate them for time away from work, unless that time is legitimately covered under another policy within the organisation,” it added.

Businesses were also told to “develop a contingency plan for the organisation to minimise the impact of your employee’s joining the proposed industrial action, ensure that the plan looks not only at staffing and ensuring the business is able to be adequately covered, but also bearing in mind the potential impact on critical areas, for example Transport Board, Barbados Port Inc. as it relates to inadequate coverage”.

The advice did not end there, however.

The BEC also reminded employers they would face imprisonment and fines if they tried to discipline workers who took part in the national strike.

“Don’t … seek to discipline any employee, who as a member of a registered trade union, participates in any industrial action called and sanctioned by that union. Sections 8, 8A, and 40A of the Trade Unions Act Cap 361 clearly outlines that any employer who seeks to take action against employee for taking part in a strike is guilty of an offence and may be prosecuted and if found guilty, may be fined up to $1,000, imprisoned for up to six months or both.”

It also told them not to “agree to pay employees for periods away from work due to participation in industrial action”.

“The BEC and the Barbados Private Sector Association continue to do all within their capacity to keep you informed and provide guidance during this uncertain period,” the circular concluded.

Today, a private sector spokesman said while the Prime Minister’s action seemed to have averted the industrial action “businesses should still be prepared for any eventuality”.

The BEC recently reported that between January and October last year about 28 “man days” were lost because of work stoppages in the public and private sectors. The action involved more than 400 workers collectively.

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