In the space of four days the issue of the beleaguered dismissed workers of the National Conservation Commission (NCC) has been on the front burner, as unions summoned their members for talks on the future. In the eyes of many, it took a while, but we are resigned to better late than never.
The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) was first out the blocks, declaring at the end of a highly charged meeting last Friday that the country should brace for possible widespread action in protest of the long delay in resolving the “unfair” dismissals. Acting NUPW general secretary Roslyn Smith said a date and time were yet to be set, but she noted that the protest could coincide with the next meeting of Parliament, scheduled for Tuesday, January 13.
Said Smith: “I believe, given the mood of the workers this morning, that they are clear they want to hit the streets in protest of the delay, because they said they were off since April and, to date, the promised hearing with the tribunal is not forthcoming . . . . They have some fundamental issues which we believe should be corrected.”
. . . Not the least of which is the failure of Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to respond to a request for an interim payment to be made to the workers who have been empty-handed since being severed at the end of April last year. When did the union put the Government under pressure to respond?
On Monday, the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) called out its equally frustrated NCC members, but the workers said a resounding no to the idea of joining their fellow NUPW colleagues on the streets. According to BWU general secretary Toni Moore, her members opted to pursue the matter before the newly constituted Employment Rights Tribunal, rather than take protest action or demand their severance now.
“We are heartened that these former workers of the National Conservation Commission, not withstanding the hardship, have determined for themselves, and not with any coaching by us, that they would want to pursue the matter following a course of principle –– one that seeks to demand for themselves justice, because they are satisfied that had process been properly observed to date, those among us in this audience would still have been working,” Moore stressed.
The BWU boss said she was not bothered by the NUPW’s approach. We agree the NUPW and BWU are two distinct bodies and it is well within their right to choose their separate approach, but one would have thought that given the protracted nature of the NCC issue and hardship on the displaced workers, the two unions would come together and flex their collective muscle to get a speedy resolution.
In no way do we suggest that the solution lies in both sides staging demonstrations, since there’s much doubt on just what impact the proposed protests would have, given the fact that the NCC saga has dragged on over nine long months. As some put it, could we be beating a dead horse?
Now is not the time for one-upmanship by either side. In the eyes of the public, both the NUPW and BWU seemingly dropped the ball on the controversial layoffs, and for months there was a deafening silence, prompting suggestions by some that the unions were in bed with the Government. We stay clear of bedroom affairs, and leave it up to the workers to say if they are satisfied with the representation they received.
Nevertheless, this issue cannot be allowed to run its course as it did over the last few months. The case is still to be heard by the Employment Rights Tribunal now being reconstituted, and the unions have a job to nominate their representatives.
To date we are still in the dark as to whether the BWU or the NUPW has followed through. Failure to act will only hurt the workers even more; and on both sides there should only be one aim –– just due to NCC workers.