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Unions: The Fight to Survive
Tuesday, 29 January 2013 11:20


Apart from the debate on the forthcoming elections, Barbadians would readily agree that the dispute between the Barbados Workers’ Union and Cable and Wireless over the redundancy of 97 of its workers has been the topical issue on the island, and, among trade unions across the region, who have rallied behind the Union.

As you may recall the Barbados Workers’ Union threatened industrial against Cable and Wireless after that Company chose not to turn up for the scheduled meeting with the Union at the Ministry of Labour, under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour on January 7. That date had been agreed upon by the two sides at their meeting of December 31, 2012, which was also held under the chairmanship of the Minister. But, instead of meeting, the Company wrote letters addressed to the Ministry and the Union with the news that it was making redundant 97 workers, which was one of the matters under discussion. To make matters worse, both sides had arranged not to take any action on the agenda matters.

The Union made a strong protest over the Company’s decision to unilaterally bring an end to the negotiations by writing letters of dismissals to the workers and halting the talks, particularly as a Minister of the Crown was chairing the meeting. As a consequence of the Company’s stiffened and non-compliant attitude, the Union began to mobilise its members, at Cable and Wireless and nationally, for industrial action.

The large number of shop stewards who attended those meetings spoke out very strongly against a wide range of breaches of the collective agreements which have taken place over the recent past, and vowed to throw their full support behind the Union in relation to the proposed industrial action.

The strike was averted after the Prime Minister intervened. And during the two meetings under his chairmanship, the Union insisted that the Company should apologise, firstly, to the workers at Cable and Wireless, especially those who were employed in the retail stores because of the slight made in relation to the quality of the service they were supposedly offering; and in the other instance, the Union argued that the company should also apologise to the Social Partnerships for its breach of the collective bargaining process and Protocol V1.

The Union argued forcefully that labour management relations in Barbados, like nature itself, are governed by laws and that any breach by either side would seek to undermine the system.

Throughout the talks BWU General Secretary signaled to the Barbadian public that a number of other companies in Barbados were attempting to violate the collective bargaining process as well as the protocols, which have been signed by the Social Partners, by dismissing workers without discussion with the Union, seeking brazenly to wipe out negotiated benefits, or, flatly refusing to allow workers to organise. The Union noted that this action amounted to a breach of the workers’ fundamental human rights, their constitutional rights, their rights under the law and their rights under International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Conventions 87 and 98 which provide for workers their rights to organise and to bargain collectively.

Every speaker emphasised that this action by the employers demanded solidarity by the workers and a unified counter to any workplace infraction which sought to dishonour labour management protocols and deprive workers of their human rights.

Sir Roy’s views mirrored the strongly expressed observations of the many shop stewards who rose to speak on the issue of human rights and trade union rights, during the three meetings, at “Solidarity House” which were called by the Union to rally the workers for industrial action. A common theme by the majority of the speakers was that a number of employers in Barbados and across the globe were using the downturn in the economy as a ruse to make workers redundant, bring ruin to the union movement and undermine the democratic institutions.

In fact, there is substantial evidence to show that workers the world over and their trade unions are in a struggle to survive. Some of the job loss results from the introduction of new technology as well as enforced action by governments and employers to reduce labour. The following reveals some of what has been happening in this regard in the United States, Norway, Switzerland, Austria, and in Japan, where postal workers have been fighting for their survival.

In the USA, the American Postal Workers’ Union has filed a motion with the Postal Regulatory Commission in the United States to halt the US Postal Service’s plan to close nearly half of its 461 mail processing facilities in the next three years. The US Postal Service plans called for 48 plant consolidations in 2012, followed by 92 closures this year and a further 89 by the end of next year. The closures would be accompanied by a reduction in overnight and next-day delivery standards as well.

The counsel for the American Postal Workers’ Union countered that, given the complete lack of analysis and evidence, there appeared to be no justification for management’s claims of an estimated $1.2 billion in savings from phase 1 of the plan to close the processing facilities.

In a ruling in June, last year, the Postal Regulatory Commission denied the American Postal Workers’ Union’s motion. The Union has, however, vowed to keep up its regulatory and legislative activity. American Postal Workers’ Union President Cliff Guffey has said that the decision demonstrates the need to strengthen the commission’s authority and to enhance public input into the United States Postal Service plans that would affect service on a nation-wide basis.

In Norway, that country’s Parliament has implemented a plan by the Post to eliminate all but 30 of the country’s 149 remaining post offices. The restructuring will increase the post’s reliance on in-store postal counters, of which there will number roughly 1400.

The changes will also dramatically reduce the scope of the postal bank. In the future, postal financial services will be replaced by a scheme whereby the services are provided only through the rural postal network. Customers will be required to pre-book banking services.

Postkom President Odd Christian Overland said of the announced changes, “there has been a difficult start to the day for those who suffer. He has vowed to hold discussions with the Post regarding the impact on employees, in particular programmes to help the Union, challenges in the Japanese postal industry, and to celebrate their recent victory in achieving favorable postal reform legislation.

The A.V.V.S. De Moederbond, which the trade union umbrella organisation in Suriname has joined with the other trade union bodies from across the Caribbean which have come out in full support of the Barbados Workers’ Union in its current dispute with Cable and Wireless.


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