The window of opportunity for an amicable resolution to the volatile industrial relations climate at the Barbados Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (BADMC) may have closed – unless the Minister for the agency intervenes, a union boss suggested today.
Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Wayne Waldron told Barbados TODAY: “We would like the Minister of Agriculture to intervene because workers are feeling as if their rights are being systematically taken away.
“Right now, the morale of the workers is very low, and workers don’t want to be there.
“One day, if things don’t change soon, workers may not show up to work at all.”
Although he was quick to point out that the union had no immediate industrial action planned, he suggested the workers’ patience was quickly wearing thin and held out a work stoppage as a “possibility”.
In the latest development the management of the state-owned farm board has now opted to forego industrial relations protocol, choosing instead to go the legal route for disciplinary procedures for employees.
Waldron claims: “The BADMC is veering from the traditional approach in dealing with discipline issues between the workers and the human resource committee.
“It seems that the BADMC has opted to go the legal route in terms of a tribunal of legal persons. This is not good for industrial relations because if at the domestic level we are going to go the legal route of attorney-at-law, it creates a very uncomfortable situation for the employees.”
Last month, Waldron told Barbados TODAY that tensions were on the verge of coming to a head, as workers protest “unilateral attempts to change their working terms and conditions”.
Among the contentious issues, he said, was an attempt to change the public holiday policy, work hours and appointments. Staff have also complained that the human resource department has taken upon itself to revert workers to their substantive posts after they had acted in a higher position for several years.
The union official told Barbados TODAY this afternoon that with management going the legal route to handling disputes, it was unlikely that tensions will subside in the near future.
He said: “It is really a different spin on industrial relations and it really means that things are getting worse when one opts to be flanked by legal persons instead of sitting and dialoguing with the representative bodies of the staff.
“It is really a trend that we have to watch carefully because at the least, it makes the process a lot more complicated and drawn out when you go this route.
“We prefer to let things run the traditional way of industrial relations and if that fails then you can go the other route.”
Earlier this week, Waldron complained of futile attempts to get a meeting with the BADMC management. He warned that the matter was moving close to the point of industrial action.
“We are waiting on a meeting… and it is causing unrest among workers. We hope that that would be very soon,” he said.
BADMC management has asked for time to take the union’s earlier proposals to the board of directors for discussion, he said, before the two sides could start negotiations on a fresh collective agreement.
Asked how long the union was willing to wait, Waldron replied: ”Within a reasonable time. If the next couple of weeks we can’t meet around the table, we would have to see how we can advance the matter.
“I wouldn’t say directly what we intend to do, but if within the next couple of weeks we can’t have this meeting, we would have to determine what strategy to engage.
“[Industrial action] is always a tool that unions can’t rule out. It is not a first option, but it is something that unions could never rule out. The whole idea of taking action for the pursuance of a dispute if we declare there is a dispute… and people use their collective power to draw attention to have their issues addressed; that is always a possibility.”