The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and management of the state-owned Barbados Water Authority (BWA) are to meet in an emergency session this week to try to resolve challenges with retrenched employees apparently not being able to claim unemployment benefits.
Special advisor to the BWU and former general secretary Sir Roy Trotman told a press conference at its Solidarity House headquarters this afternoon that the BWA has agreed to meet on a day to be confirmed to discuss the issue which seems to involve the non-deduction of unemployment contributions.
“It [BWA) has however signaled that it may need to refer this matter to the Ministry of Finance and to the National Insurance Board,” Sir Roy said.
“We have to report that some of the workers displaced by the Barbados Water Authority are experiencing challenges regarding unemployment claims. At their engagement, workers in the public service should be made aware if they are not having social charges deducted to cover severance, sickness, unemployment,” Sir Roy said.
“If this is not happening,” he added, “ it would be concluded that the State is catering for such eventualities under the regulations covering public workers,” the retired union boss pointed out.
While he was unaware of how many of the 75 retrenched workers are affected, the former union leader argued that they cannot be blamed for not being able to claim unemployment.
So high on the agenda of this week’s meeting will be clarity on the terms and conditions of employment of the terminated staff.
“Our aim would be to make sure the conditions under which those workers were engaged were properly understood, and where those conditions were understood, that they be pursued. Where they were not understood, then we would have to have some understanding regarding what can be done…because, as far as we are concerned, when you go to work for an employer, that employer has an obligation to you as an employee…and that employer has an obligation to the State to ensure that you pay your social charges,” Sir Roy reasoned.
He said that has to be the first step at the meeting.
“And thereafter we will have to bring to bear our sense of proportion, our sense of what is decent and reasonable,” the ex-BWU leader said.
He contended that some of the laid off staff have worked before in the private sector and, having contributed for the qualifying period of a year, have previously benefited from such unemployment provisions.
Sir Roy told reporters that unless they were advised differently by the BWA, these workers cannot be faulted for expecting that unemployment premiums were being deducted and that they should register for unemployment benefits.
The veteran trade unionist noted that severance payment was not an issue, since the water works company has undertaken to make good those payments.
“However, regarding the unemployment issue, the BWU having learnt of the problem only yesterday, has requested a meeting with the authority to address this matter without delay,” he told reporters.
Sir Roy contended that the state utility company may have contributed in part to the “unfortunate” situation in which the authority and the affected workers find themselves.
He said the union cannot at this stage, speak to the terms and conditions of employment of some of the workers considering that efforts by the BWU to obtain such information proved futile.
“Correspondence from BWU General Secretary Toni Moore will show that the BWU was anxious to meet the administration of the day to ensure that recruits were engaged under similar contracts of service to those of earlier staff. These requests for meetings to regularize the staffing conditions were not accommodated,” he stated.