This island’s umbrella trade union body is not entirely happy with the ruling handed down last week by the Employment Rights Tribunal in the cases brought by the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) against the state-owned National Conservation Commission (NCC).
The Tribunal ruled on Friday that the NCC had unfairly dismissed workers in April 2014 when it embarked on a retrenchment exercise as part of Government’s cost-cutting programme.
However, the panel rejected the workers’ demand to be reinstated and ordered 52 weeks’ compensation instead.
The Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) today suggested that the workers should have had their jobs back since they should not have been dismissed in the first place.
CTUSAB President Cedric Murrell told Barbados TODAY Thursday afternoon that compensation alone would not get the retrenched employees off the breadline.
Murrell said even though he was encouraged by the fact that the ruling was in the workers’ favour in one sense, he did not feel the same way about what the actions of the NCC management had done to its staff.
“The Congress is comforted that the decision of the Employment Rights Tribunal was in favour of the workers of the NCC. It is not comforted however, by the fact of those workers . . . by the actions of their employer, now being disadvantaged, because the compensation will never compensate for the fact that they otherwise might have been at work,” he said.
In explaining the reasons for concluding the workers were unfairly dismissed, Tribunal Chairman Hal Gollop, QC, said the decision by the NCC not to consult with the workers or the NUPW, along with its failure to recognize the union as the workers’ bargaining agent was a breach of their constitutional rights. He also said the last-in-first-out principle was “arbitrarily applied”.
The CTUSAB president said this meant that public and private sector employers or representatives of employers would now have to ensure that before they acted, the proper consultation was done with regards to termination of workers.
“The Congress has called repeatedly for the process of consultation to be respected and honoured, especially as we try to hold fast to the voluntaristic system, though, still recognizing that there needs to be a legal framework in which we operate,” he said.
“What this decision has clearly said is that employers have to respect the process of consultation with the unions and if at all possible, that it would be better if consensus and agreement were reached,” Murrell stressed.
In his ruling, Gollop said the workers represented by the National Union of Public Workers were unfairly dismissed, and therefore the tribunal awarded Cutie Lynch – the former general worker in whose name the suit was filed – 52 weeks worth of wages; and ordered the same compensation for those represented by the Barbados Workers Union in the name of Anderson Chase. Gollop also ruled that both unions and the commission now had to negotiate the compensation based on the Employments Rights Act, which provides for no more than 52 weeks’ wages.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has promised that Government will find the funds to compensate the dismissed workers.
“Government has to pay. You cannot have a decision against a Government institution – and in this case the NCC – and say you can’t afford to pay. You have to pay. Whatever the terms on which the payments are made it is now a debt due and owing by the NCC when the figures have been finalized,” Stuart said this week when asked if Government could really afford to pay at this time.
Government’s public sector retrenchment programme resulted in about 3,000 workers across the sector being placed on the breadline.