A nasty war of wills with class and racial undertones has developed between the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and management of the Apes Hill Club, with the union accusing the St James luxury facility of engaging in “industrial terrorism” and practicing “mental and economic slavery” against workers.
In a strongly worded statement issued today, the BWU expressed “alarm and distress” at the Apes Hill Club’s management’s behaviour, charging that it was attempting to trample workers’ rights.
“The Executive Council of The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) is alarmed and distressed by the instance of disrespect and anti social behaviour demonstrated by one Barbadian of privilege against another of humble circumstances, when all that the poor worker was doing was insisting that his human and trade union’s rights should be exercised by him, without the industrial terrorism which the employers have been using to bring the Apes Hill workers under their brand of mental and economic slavery,” the statement began.
Apes Hill has insisted that it would not sit around the table with the BWU until the union has met its demand to complete a fresh vote to determine if it remained the legitimate representative bargaining unit for its employees.
The union has contended that it is the workers’ representative and has complained that the employer was “unbelievably unwilling” to grant it recognition, against the workers’ will.
It also accused the employers’ umbrella body, the Barbados Employers’ Confederation, of complicity with Apes Hill in its effort to prevent the union from resolving “several acts of unfairness and crude labour practices” which confront the workers.
“Regrettably, notwithstanding advice from the Labour Department to treat with the workers the employers’ umbrella body has been leading the anti union resistance. And workers’ rights are being trampled into the dust,” the statement said.
The BWU also hinted strongly that the St James club, which describes itself as a world class golf and polo facility, was behind an incident in which a protesting worker was struck by a vehicle yesterday while on the picket line near the company. The worker was taken to hospital for treatment.
It said the grievances it listed in the statement could not explain why workers on a picket line in a strike “should initially have to scamper to safety or should have one of their numbers struck while he was on the picket line”.
The union said it would not seek to “fan the flames of this outrage” but warned Apes Hill, the Barbados Employers’ Confederation “and other employers who may share their backward thinking” that for Barbados’ 50th anniversary of independence next year to have full meaning, basic human rights had to be fully respected for everyone.
“Money and colour and class must not be the governing consideration: We are all equal in the eyes of God and before the law,” the statement concluded.
The two sides are scheduled to meet on Thursday, under the chairmanship of the Chief Labour Officer. However, even as they prepare for their first round of talks in four years, the BWU has not shied away from unleashing a bitter verbal attack on Apes Hill.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY before the release of the statement, the BWU’s Deputy General Secretary Dwaine Paul described the company’s behaviour as “appalling” and “stupid”, and accused it of deliberately stalling talks on longstanding issues affecting staff.
“It is really an appalling position that you would hold up the discussions. This whole process had been delayed by more than a year because of this whole position of management asking the Labour Department for an opinion, having the opinion and still have people not cooperating with stupid moves and trying to have another position for it,” Paul told Barbados TODAY.
After the management agreed last evening to meet with the union, the maintenance staff who had been on strike since last Friday to protest against the delay in talks, returned to their jobs.
Paul contended that there was no justification for the company to ask for a fresh recognition poll, because it had already acknowledged the union in 2011.
“We believe the underlying issue in this whole matter is that there seems to be a move afoot to introduce new elements into the industrial relations process that don’t exist [and] which are not supported by current practices.
“I believe there is also an attempt to force the administrators of the process into a position which is an unfortunate situation,” Paul said.
Management of the Apes Hill Club said in a statement yesterday – prior to agreeing to the meeting – that it required a fresh vote because the two sides have not held any substantive discussions in four years.
However, Paul said there was nothing that said there could not be breaks in bargaining.
“Any negotiations process has breaks for one reason or the next. There are a whole host of reasons why talks may not progress . . . you are essentially negotiating in an environment which is considered a growing concern,” he contended.