One week after the Employment Rights Tribunal awarded the maximum 52 weeks’ wages as compensation to the workers retrenched by the state-run National Conservation Commission (NCC), one of their bargaining agents is warning Government to pay up “like yesterday”.
In addition, after meeting with members at Solidarity House Friday afternoon to review the ruling, the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) ordered the Freundel Stuart administration to make the payments in one lump sum and not in tranches. BWU General Secretary Toni Moore would not be drawn into revealing if the union would take industrial action should there be undue delays in disbursing the cash.
However, she made it clear the payment must be made immediately in order to avoid further fallout.
The NCC severed 200 workers in April 2014 as part of Government’s retrenchment programme, which saw more than 3,000 public sector workers losing their jobs.
Approximately 120 of these workers represented by the BWU and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) were unfairly dismissed by the NCC, according to the Tribunal. The remaining workers had accepted settlements and were not part of the cases brought by the two unions.
When Tribunal Chairman Hal Gollop, QC, delivered his judgment last Friday, he ordered the state agency to compensate the staff, rather than rehire or reengage them.
He also said it would be up to the unions and the NCC to get together and work out the details of the payment.
However, the BWU boss told reporters Friday afternoon there was no need for it to meet with the state enterprise since the only two questions that required answers were exactly how much money was to be paid and the time frame.
Asked how long the union was willing to wait, Moore replied: “Well, if we are saying the workers have been off 106 weeks already, and we are saying that is a bitter pill to swallow in light of the fact that the award is only 52 weeks’ [wages], one could imagine that we would not be comfortable waiting another week, another two weeks or another any time. Workers should get their money like yesterday and that is our view.”
The BWU General Secretary also issued a further caution to the Freundel Stuart administration about settlement of the compensation, in light of the fact that disbursement was out of the union’s hands.
“As you have recognized, it is not left to the Barbados Workers Union, but I think that Government would be advised to make every effort to get the full amount into the hands of those workers in the shortest possible time to avoid further fallout,” she said.
When pressed to specify what she meant by fallout, Moore said: “[I mean] disaffection [of] my workers, who are also voters.”
Moore said while the union had worked out what her members would likely be paid based on their basic wages, the final amount would also include holiday and lieu days owed. She declined to disclose the basic pay out.
The union leader also revealed that her organization was exploring the possibility of appealing the Tribunal’s ruling.
“There are some questions the Barbados Workers Union has directed to our legal counsel. We are aware that as it relates to the Employment Rights Act that the decision of the Employment Rights Tribunal is final. However, there can be appeals raised on questions of law. So right now, with our legal counsel, we are going through the matter just to verify that there are no such questions of law, which we would need to raise.
“Once that process has been gone through, the question of when would come into play and we don’t believe that the when question is one that would start being answered once we have finalized the figures, because everybody knows the judgment. The Ministry of Finance has the information, so it would be a question of telling us when the money would be paid,” the union leader stressed.
Moore also called for a revision of the Employment Rights Act to put the maximum awards granted in line with the realities of tenure of service. She said the workers who attended today’s meeting felt “rejected, hard-done, angry, disappointed and frustrated” bearing in mind that after two years on the breadline, they could only receive a maximum of 52 weeks’ wages.
“ . . . anybody who has any conscience or wants to be reasonable imposing themselves in that situation and asking, ‘how would I feel, if it were me,’ would have to answer that you would still feel undone and unfaired, even though a judgment has been in your favour,” she said.
The BWU head would not blame the Tribunal for awarding the 52 weeks’ wages, saying it was the law. However, she noted that what the retrenched employees received after two years off the job was less than half of what they would have earned had they not been dismissed.
Just yesterday General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union Caswel Franklyn told Barbados TODAY the workers should appeal the ruling because they had been given a raw deal.