Deafening silence

NUPW left to look stupid by the Prime Minister, says Walrond

The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is demanding that interim monies be paid to former workers of the National Conservation Commission (NCC) pending the payment of severance. It has also vowed not to abandon its push for the matter to be dealt with by the Employment Rights Tribunal.

“What we want as a show of good faith is some monies that would be able to serve as an interim payment equivalent to severance to be paid to these workers and that they retain their right to [have their case heard] whenever the tribunal is ready,” said Wayne Walrond, senior industrial relations officer at the NUPW.

He, along with acting general secretary of the NUPW Roslyn Smith, met with more than 40 of the former employees at the union’s Dalkeith headquarters this morning, seven months after they were laid off.

During a meeting with the former employees today, feelings of anger, bitterness and resentment were expressed by both former workers and the union representatives.

The meeting ended with an impromptu protest outside the NUPW building, with workers demanding their money and calling for the resignation of Minister of Environment Denis Lowe.

The former employees decided to stage an impromptu protest.

Speaking earlier, Walrond stressed that the union had acted in good faith and a grave injustice had been committed by the authorities.

He went as far as to question the failure of the Freundel Stuart Cabinet to hold Minister of Environment Dr Denis Lowe accountable over his handling of the NCC dismissals and said the inability of the tribunal to begin hearing matters had put the union in a bad light, making it appear to be a sell out.

“He [Stuart] assured us within the following week he could get matters expedited, he assured us . . . and to date there’s a deafening silence. It left NUPW looking stupid, it looking as if you prostituted yourself and that you really sold the workers short,” Walrond told workers.

He insisted that action should have been taken against Lowe given the appearance that the minister had interfered in the last in, first out process.

“He should have been called to account by Cabinet and I’m surprised that he hasn’t been called [to] account. I’m very serious. I’m saying based on the allegations and the empirical evidence that the relevant authority should have taken the appropriate action to deal with such wrongdoing,” the trade unionist asserted.

He charged that Government has not held its end of the bargain, leaving deep uncertainty about just when the Employment Rights Tribunal will commence hearings.

Edmund Hinkson, an Opposition Member of Parliament, also came in for criticism with the NUPW representative saying that his suggestion that dismissed workers abandon their case should not even be entertained.

“That is dangerous in a sense because he should be advocating for the tribunal to meet, that’s what he should be doing. He should be [pressing] the Government and [saying] ‘these workers are being [treated] unfair, and asking how soon will the tribunal be set up’ instead of telling you take the money. Because once you take the money the case is dismissed,” he warned.

Walrond also leveled harsh criticisms at Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo over comments in a Barbados TODAY interview in September when she stated the tribunal had teething problems and explained that she had hoped that Labour Department workers could have been used to staff the dispute settlement body.

“The tribunal is . . . like a Magistrate’s Court so when it makes a decision it’s legally binding . . . so for her to suggest that she thought the Labour Department staff would be adequate enough to deal with the tribunal shows that she’s ignorant to what the tribunal is. That is ignorance to the highest. I always know that when you’re setting up a tribunal you have to look for proper staffing, legal people, attorneys-at-law, legal secretaries and so forth. I always knew you had to have separate staffing with separate accommodation.

“I’m very much offended that there is this deafening silence and we’re going into 2015 and I’m not even aware at what time in 2015 they will have the tribunal in place. Yes, we have the legislation but we don’t have the apparatus set up so the legislation without the appropriate machinery to have it executed means nothing to these workers,” he said.

Walrond disclosed that the union was considering further protest with dismissed workers to show Government they are serious about their demands.

“That is something that was contemplated but we don’t want to go into details as yet because we want the process to work and we’ll determine if it would be necessary to follow up with intensified action so we would just want to say at this point ‘yes, it is under consideration’,” he said.

Meantime, the acting general secretary informed the meeting that with just over a month remaining before 2015 comes to a close, there was still no indication when the tribunal will commence its hearings.

“They’re still looking for somewhere to hold meetings to accommodate at least 200 persons and they’re now advertising for staff so we’re now looking at somewhere down in 2015 for the tribunal to be set up and to hear cases. There’s no guarantee that it will hear the NCC’s case first,” Smith said.

Speaking to Barbados TODAY, some of the former workers vowed not to ease the pressure on the administration until the matter was heard, particularly given that period for the payment of employment benefits has ended.

“It’s not only about the NCC issue but this is an island-wide issue. I would like all the other displaced workers, whether from Drainage, whether from Transport Board, to come together in this righteous cause and help us to fight for our right,” said Troy Nicholls.

Another ex-employee Cutie Lynch said settlement of the matter was long overdue.

“We the workers out here suffering. NIS money done and we got children to send to school. We got our bills to pay. This is a big injustice that was done to us and we want something done about it urgently, more urgent than the Prime Minister’s promise because his urgency take more than seven months. We need something done about it,” she said.

Holding a placard stating “Lowe must go, too many lies,” Anthony Chase insisted that the retrenchments were not conducted in a transparent manner.

“We supposed to leave NCC with a package and this is seven months and no package so Lowe must go,” he shouted heatedly.

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