Declaring that industrial relations in Barbados had reached boiling point, a seemingly battle-ready Barbados Workers Union (BWU) today served notice of “one big” strike that could shut down the country’s economy.
General Secretary Toni Moore said a lack of respect for workers by Government and private business, their failure to honour previously agreed commitments, unilateral decisions which adversely change conditions of employment and continuous refusal to give outstanding pay, had forced the union to opt for a possible national strike at a date to be determined.
Moore told a news conference at the BWU’s Solidarity House headquarters called to highlight these problems, that more than a half dozen companies, including Sandy Lane Hotel, G4S Security, Customs and Excise Department, Preconco Limited, Barbados Light & Power Company as well as the financial and agricultural sectors had created conditions similar to those that preceded the 1937 disturbances.
“Workers at all levels are being subjected to the kinds of behaviours and decisions that are not only wrong, but which are exasperating the inequality that is present in the country which is eroding spending power and compromising our economic recovery and lending to the kind of anarchy, in our opinion, that gave rise to the movement that we would have seen in the 19th century and early 20th century; the riots,” the union boss contended.
She said the union’s Executive Council had already given the leadership its backing to take whatever action it deemed necessary in the circumstances. The BWU chief also cautioned that the entire hotel industry would be dislocated when the time was ripe, if Sandy Lane did not resolve soon the matter of outstanding salary increases retroactive to December 15, 2010.
“This is not only a case where one hotel should be taken to task for its failure to honour an agreement, but this is an hotel which is part of an association that has entered an agreement with the Barbados Workers Union that can pay, but that has refused to pay,” she emphasized.
”If we allow Sandy Lane to get away with not meeting a commitment [to pay a 3 percent increase], not adhering to an agreement, then what is to stop all the other establishments within the grouping, this year or in years to come, from failing to acknowledge different aspects of the agreement until we don’t have an agreement anymore.”
As for the discontent by Customs guards and other staff over their proposed transfer to the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), Moore disclosed that a meeting was set for later today with its bargaining unit to determine the way forward. She said the union was getting mixed signals with respect to the number of Customs guards needed to move over to the BRA.
The BWU general secretary also told reporters that banks and credit unions continued to resist paying workers salary hikes despite public pronouncements of solid financial performances. “But more importantly, there seems to be a move or a wave of redundancies that seem attractive to the principals. We had one such meeting yesterday afternoon and that one might very well result in industrial dislocation, one that we are watching closely,” warned Moore.
She said these challenges were now being highlighted because the union was “all talked out.” She noted that it had reached a point where all reasonable attempts had been made to talk with principals at different levels to address the issues previously outlined as well as a number of matters still to be dealt with, with other companies.
”We are tired of receiving commitments and having those commitments just remain that: commitments that are not followed through by action. The Executive Council of the Barbados Workers Union met last night and has had to give careful reflection to the situation, and particularly to these areas that have been highlighted.”
Moore said she was not aware of any industrial action taken by the Customs guards, only that the anxiety and stress which they are experiencing on the job may be impeding the speed at which they are carrying out their duties. “What we would want to do is commend them for the effort that they are still giving to try to perform their tasks as best they could,” she said.
She added: “So the Barbados Workers Union has met . . . the Executive Council and we are prepared to give support wherever it is required without further revert as a council because the issues that I have raised for your attention are issues at this point that are at boiling point and we don’t know when the spill over is likely to occur.”
The BWU boss said the complaint with G4S Security related to a lack of decent pay for decent work or pay of a similar value. Moore pointed out that the management of this company was calling security officers stewards in order to pay them less money. That matter, she added, was now before the Labour Department, as well as the dispute with Barbados Light & Power Company over its “unilateral” decision to send home 73 of its 400 workers.
Moore said the BL&P issue would commence at the Labour Department tomorrow after talks broke down at the domestic level because the utility company “still has not accepted that . . . it acted inappropriately vis-a-vis Protocol VI of the Social Partnership and the Employment Rights Act, or they haven’t accepted that they breached a commitment which they made … to revise the last collective agreement which expired December 31 this year; a commitment that they would not impact the workforce.”