Management of the Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) has been warned that the rights of workers in the country’s sugar industry will not be trampled with impunity under Government’s next round of retrenchment.
Outgoing President of the Sugar Industries Staff Association (SISA), Edwin O’Neal, in his final address to members warned of the presence of ‘little Hitlers’, in the sector, who engaged in extremely dubious practices, during the last round of the retrenchment exercise.
He also publicly called for the resignation of some high-level members of staff at the BAMC, who “clearly targeted” ardent union members in the process.
In January, the BAMC cut 46 sugar workers as Government continued its painful layoff process under the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) plan. During SISA’s annual general meeting on Friday, the process came under tremendous scrutiny.
“They cut and sent home persons who are in the productive sector of the BAMC, namely farm managers and supervisors. But the very people who the Prime Minister said should be the first to go, they didn’t touch,” he said, referring to stenographers and clerk typists who were not sent home.
“But process supervisors, supervisors of farms and managers of farms are gone- all of whom are supposed to be the people in the categories that drive the BAMC and provide an opportunity for it to earn some money,” contended O’Neal.
He added that much larger unions like the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) continued to secure the respect of Government, while staff associations like SISA, with its approximately 33 members, continued to be ignored.
“They committed to meetings with us, but when it started to get uncomfortable, they arbitrarily brought meetings to a halt, because time is of the essence for them and that was in November . . . but would you believe that this same BAMC continued to meet with the BWU all the way into January?
“I could only come up with one rationale explanation. They are afraid of the BWU because the BWU is big and has might, but SISA is small, so they can trample all over it.
He also made his position clear on further retrenchment of workers at state owned enterprises (SOE)’s.
“We are not opposed to cuts, but the cuts must make sense. The management of BAMC has never once sat down with the union to devise a feasible approach to restructuring, to rationalizing or giving BAMC a chance,” he revealed.
O’Neal, who recently took up the post of President of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations (CTUSAB) will be replaced by incoming President, Dwight Miller.
However he also had a stern warning to the union’s members.
“Do not take any comfort because the cutlass of retrenchment has not reached you as yet. There is promise of another wave of retrenchment. I will not be here in this position, but I would hope that as members of the union, you gird you loins and prepare for battle.
“Something has gone wrong in this country when officials can behave in the way that they do in relation to industrial relations and labor management issues. It is as though ‘Massa’ days have returned again,” he said passionately.
He further warned his comrades to be “continually vigilant,” encouraging them to set themselves against “tyranny and ‘bullyism.’”