Government job cuts could disrupt next year’s sugar crop, warns the unit representing sugar workers.
At the heart of the issue is the decision by the state enterprise running the sugar industry, Barbados Agricultural Management Co Ltd (BAMC), to offer voluntary separation packages to the employees without consultation with the Sugar Industries and Staff Association (SISA).
At a press briefing held in the cane fields of Constant Plantation this morning, SISA president Edwin O’Neal explained that in two letters, one of October 30, 2018 and the other November 8, 2018, staff at the BAMC were given until November 15 to submit their names for voluntary separation with a guarantee of payment by November 29 if successful.
But SISA is yet to receive any information from the BAMC regarding the nature of the packages being offered or the number of workers to be sent home, O’Neal said.
“By letter the 19th of November, we as a union wrote to the general manager, decrying the tactics employed and with the resolve that since it represented a breach of good industrial relations and at best a flagrant disrespect to the SISA union that we would take a decision to report this development to the social partnership through CTUSAB [Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados]. To date there has been no further response,” said O’Neal.
But the SISA president was not in a position to say whether the BAMC was in consultation with the workers’ other bargaining agent, the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU). He contended that his union and the BWU had the interest of the workers at heart and therefore he expected both workers’ rights organizations to be “singing from the same hymn sheet.
“A company categorised as an SOE [state-owned enterprise] and ought to be the epitome of what a model employer ought to be. Instead it began the process without consultation with union even though we have extended the olive branch. We have advised that they need, even at that late stage, to go back and come again, all of which has been to no effect,” lamented O’Neal.
The SISA leader, who is also the head of CTUSAB, made it clear that while it would be up to the umbrella body to determine the next step, he could not guarantee smooth sailing for the 2019 crop.
“This certainly makes a mockery of tripartism. It makes a mockery of everything that a social partnership and labour are supposed to represent. We have been around this thing too long for this kind of ad hoc, arbitrary, maverick-type of behaviour to be going on,” stressed O’Neal, making it clear that industrial action was not ruled out.
He explained that since the development, players in the sugar industry have been on edge as a dark cloud of uncertainty looms over the sector, which had a 15 per cent bump in tonnage this year over last year.
“SISA called a general meeting of its members and the reports we got were that fellas were disillusioned, demotivated at a time when you really want all hands on deck, full speed ahead in preparation for the 2019 crop,” he said.
“If you treat us in this way, you really can’t expect any meaningful intervention from us to help the process along,” the veteran trade unionist told reporters. “This is a time when the most active or the greatest level of activity of preparation both in the field and in the factory for the crop has now gone awry. So I can make no guarantees.”