It is not easy, but there is too much at stake here!
These were the sobering words of Minister of Labour and Social Security Senator Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo as she prepared to mediate a third round of talks between the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) earlier this afternoon.
The two sides have been at loggerheads over the company’s decision to sever over 50 workers from the Andrews Sugar Factory, with the BWU claiming that the matter was still under negotiation.
“I don’t know if there is anything that I can tell you ahead of the talks. They did agree to meet with me today and I always start from that position,” Byer-Suckoo said as she headed into the talks.
“For me that signals that there’s life, that both parties are still interested in meeting,” she said, noting the parties had so far not been able to broker an agreement.
The minister, who entered the conference room at her Warrens office, where the talks are taking place, just before four this evening told the members of the media resolving the strike was a number one priority as it was not something the industry could afford.
“That is why we have to try to get this matter resolved as soon as possible because every day that passes is money because of the operations at Portvale and in term of the cane. The cane, once they sit there, I can imagine what they would smell like.”
Byer-Suckoo has not, however, ruled out the matter going to the level of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart for resolution in the event that a compromise could not be reached.
She suggested, however, that the matter in itself, was time-sensitive and a solution needed to be found quickly.
“ . . . To go through a couple of rounds at me, then to go the Prime Minister to negotiate . . . everybody’s busy schedules . . . that could be carrying in another several days and I don’t think our crop has another several days; so I am really going to endeavour to do all I can to bring this to a speedy resolution.
“. . . But if it gets to a point that I think it’s not happening, then it is off to the Prime Minister. The Chief Labour Officer, he tried for two days and he realized that he couldn’t do anything at his level . . . ,” Byer-Suckoo said.
Meanwhile, BWU general secretary Sir Roy is standing firm on his position that an apology will be critical for today’s talks to move forward. This is how he has framed the union’s current fight for the workers in the sugar industry, who have been off the job for five days straight protesting the manner in which 50 workers from the Andrews Sugar Factory were retrenched by the BAMC two Fridays ago.
Speaking to the media this evening ahead of talks he said: “Whatever we asked for last week we are still requesting this week. We have not asked for the workers to the reinstated, although there are [some] who are saying that that is the matter. We have, from the very outset, spoken about the manner in which employers are choosing to disrespect and disregard our workers, especially in a crisis like this,” he said.
Meanwhile, the BAMC in a statement at the weekend said the BWU was informed of its plan to send home workers more than ten months ago when it gave notice of its intention to cease operations at Andrews. Management said several rounds of discussions were subsequently held with the union hierarchy on how the 51 employees retained at that factory would be transferred to Portvale.
However, the company said it did not receive a response from the BWU on its selection matrix and opted to move ahead with the process of redundancies.
The company insists that it has complied with the statutory notice period, and other legal obligations.