The dispute between the island’s two major unions and the National Conservation Commission (NCC) over layoffs at that Government agency is headed for the Chief Labour Officer.
After a two-hour meeting with NCC management at the commission’s Codrington House headquarters this morning, senior industrial relations officer of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Wayne Walrond, disclosed that the matter had not been resolved. He said talks could be before Chief Labour Officer Vincent Burnett by Wednesday, following a meeting of the NCC board tomorrow morning.
The NUPW and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), which represent NCC workers, are at loggerheads with the NCC over the sacking of about 200 employees last week. They are not backing down from insisting that the last in, first out principle must apply, and have accused the NCC of not following due process in proceeding with the retrenchments. Walrond contended that some workers may have accepted their letters of retrenchment “under duress”.
“I want a recall of the process. It is sending a message that the industrial relations practice must be adhered to. A lot of workers signed letters of retrenchment under duress or in ignorance. You have a situation where a worker is on the breadline and the only thing they can salvage is this final payment of monies,” he said. “They are between a rock and a hard place.
“They have to look for money to feed their families. Then you have unions intervening and pointing out to the workers they have rights. So under duress some workers may have committed themselves by signing, but that does not mean the unions would not represent them.”
The senior industrial relations officer stressed that in addition to the flawed process of the retrenchment process, there were some side issues which had to be addressed.
“The Employment Rights Bill speaks about particulars which should be in writing, so that there is no guesswork. Management should have shown how much is vacation pay, how much is in lieu notice, and how much wages a worker earns,” Walrond stated.
He said that in one case a worker had received one week’s pay in lieu of notice, when he should have received four weeks’ instead.
“There are other termination errors. If you have a contract, you cannot be given severance payment. The worker has to be given a 20 per cent gratuity payment. There are other legalistic issues we have to examine. It is not a quick fix issue. We have to look at all of the entitlements and rights in this issue.”
Meanwhile, in his condemnation of the “flawed” retrenchment process, BWU deputy director of industrial relations Dwaine Paul said the union simply wanted fairness to be the order of the day.
“The NCC did not follow the process and we are insisting that the process must be followed. Failure to follow the process has led to these issues arising. We in the trade union movement are adamant that the process must be followed and respected by the management of the NCC,” Paul said.