This country’s vital sugar production was brought to a grinding halt today, as 160 workers at the only operating factory took strike action; and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) warned that things could get worse.
The BWU, which called out workers 24 days into the harvest, also threatened to escalate the industrial action beyond the sugar sector, if management did not return to the negotiation table to settle outstanding terms and conditions under which 57 employees at Andrews Factory were made redundant last Friday.
BWU general secretary Sir Roy Trotman, who addressed the workers on the compound of Portvale this morning, accused the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) of terminating the Andrews staff in the middle of negotiations on enhanced severance packages and other related issues.
“Today marks the beginning of industrial action that we are taking against the BAMC in the sugar industry . . . . . The company is not unaware of this, because the company took the first strike action last week, when, in the middle of discussions, after they had promised to go away to study a proposal from the Barbados Workers’ Union, the company proceeded without any warning whatsoever to terminate 57 workers, who used to work at Andrews Factory,” Sir Roy declared.
He said the union replied to the BAMC officials telling them their action was “tantamount to the first strike in a war, that in fact what they had done is that they had taken industrial action and that we were being forced to respond to that industrial action which they had traken”. Sir Roy said the union was taking its action in order to vindicate the cause of the workers, not only at Andrews, but those at Portvale, in the workshops, the Sugar Terminal, the fields and the farms.
“And that is why we are here in furtherance of that particular situation. We warned officials of the Government that this was going to be happening; they did not heed the warning that we gave; and the request in fact that we were making for them to become involved, they chose not to take any interest.
“That tells us that the sugar workers are in fact, with the Barbados Workers Union, on their own in a situation where the powers that be do not care to look in after the legitimate interests of the sugar workers,” the BWU boss declared.
“So, the sugar workers,” continued Sir Roy, “are starting an exercise, which hopefully will be contained within the sugar [sector], but according to the executive council’s meeting last night, if it needs to, it can expand outside of sugar.”
The outgoing BWU general secretary made it clear, that the employers now had an opportunity to respond to the action we are taking.
“We will not close the door on any response that makes sense. But . . . we gave advanced warning to the powers that be, or the powers that were, as early as last Friday . . . ,” asserted Sir Roy.
He said the response was one of silence, which he interpreted as a “fighting” position.
“So we have done, what we have been forced to do, because of what we considered to be the indifference in the action of the one and in the response of the other,” observed the union chief.
The BWU head explained that his trade union organization was not asking for the reinstatement of any of the workers, as was recognized that redundancy was going to be necessary in the industry’s restructuring process. However, deputy general secretary Toni Moore explained that there were certain preconditions to such a decision.
Moore recalled that as far back as July last year, the union had indicated to management that enhanced severance packages must be part of discussions for redundancies. She said such packages should be similar to what’s being presented in other sectors.
General manager of the BAMC, Leslie Parris, told Barbados TODAY this morning, he would comment on today’s industrial in due course.