A survey carried out by the Labour Department has shown that the majority of the 13 workers employed at Island Furniture Ltd at Vaucluse Factory, St Thomas were enrolled with the Unity Workers Union (UWU) on or before October 26, 2015, according to a top official of the union.
However, in a letter addressed to the workers, dated June 20, 2016, Director Edwin Pionkowski indicated that “while Island Furniture Ltd intends to be fully compliant with the relevant Barbados legislation, it currently does not recognize any trade unions”.
The letter also warns that “any industrial action prior to the exhaustion of the procedural steps established by the industrial relations environment can result in disciplinary action” on the part of the company.
The letter, a copy of which was obtained by Barbados TODAY, added that “staff absent from work due to their participation in any industrial action will not be compensated for the time away from work”.
In a stern response, UWU leader Caswell Franklyn warned today that not only did the letter amount to a threat, but it constituted a breach of the Trade Union Act, which left the author liable to a fine of $1,000 or six months in jail, or both.
He also pointed out that an examination of the records by Labour Department officials on June 27, 2016 showed that seven out of the 13 employees on the list provided by the company were enrolled with the union on or before October 26, 2015 which was the date of the union’s claim.
The union official also pointed out that the Labour Department’s records had reflected that one other employee had joined the UWU within the next week ending November 6, 2015 and that all of the employees had paid their entrance fees and were bona fide members of the UWU.
In mid June this year, the workers went on a two-day sickout protesting against the terms and conditions of work at the St Thomas worksite.
At that time Franklyn accused the furniture factory of treating the workers as “modern day slaves”, charging that the only difference was that the workers were not being whipped by the bosses.
Franklyn had also painted a picture of the workers functioning in unsatisfactory conditions and having their pay packets docked if furniture were damaged through the company’s fault.
Having had their pay docked for the two days the workers were off the job, Franklyn had made a point of telling Barbados TODAY that his union had given the protesting workers 75 per cent of their wages from the union’s strike fund.
Franklyn, who is the General Secretary of the union, had also claimed that workers who had been employed at the company for over 30 years were being paid as little as $460 a week for producing custom made furniture and doors for high-end businesses in Barbados and abroad.