Unions acting contrary to the law
At the risk of getting my skull cracked or worse, I will continue to speak out and write on aspects of national life that might make some people uncomfortable.
However, at this stage, I will refrain from commenting on Minister Ronald Jones’ recent ill-advised outburst in the House of Assembly, except to say that the Prime Minister should not allow this behaviour to go unpunished. Enough said for now.
Ever since Sir Roy Trotman’s and the Barbados Workers’ Union’s (BWU) carefully orchestrated removal as Barbados’ labour representative at the International Labour Organization (ILO), I intended to write about the entity called the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), and the effect of the split with the BWU.
Many people were critical of Sir Roy for the stance he adopted when his union separated itself from the Congress. He argued that the BWU was the most representative body in this country’s labour movement, and as such, it should be accorded the right to be the labour representative at the international body.
I can agree with him that BWU ought to be the body sitting at the ILO, but not for the reasons that he stated. I will get back to that.
CTUSAB was born as a response to the economic situation that was besetting the country in 1991. Prime Minister Erskine Sandiford, as he was then, invited the unions and staff associations to a meeting at Government Headquarters, and outlined his proposals to bring the country out of the hole that his administration had painstakingly dug. One union leader then said to the Prime Minister that the proposals were a bit much and promised that the three largest unions – BWU, National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Union of Teachers – would meet and come back with a response.
The other unions and staff associations asked to be included in the discussions. As a result, the Coalition of Trade Unions and Staff Associations, the forerunner to CTUSAB, came into being without a structure or constitution. To this day I remain convinced that this loose arrangement set about and thwarted the legitimate expectations of workers for the benefit of the Government without really putting up much of a fight.
Back in 1991 there were ten unions and staff associations negotiating for workers. The formation of the coalition made life easy for Government. It allowed the administration the comfort of negotiating with one body that appeared friendly to Government, but the workers suffered and continue to do so while the leaders squabble about who would be the recipients of overseas trips. Eventually, the coalition was transformed into CTUSAB in 1995 with Sir Roy as its first president. He remained in that position until 2010.
Earlier, I agreed with Sir Roy that the BWU should be the labour representative at the ILO, not only because it is the most representative body, but because CTUSAB should not be existing in its present form.
It purports to be the umbrella body for the labour movement in this country but is doing so in defiance of at least three statutes, namely: the Police, Fire Service and Prisons acts. All three acts have similar provisions but I will quote from the Prisons Act to demonstrate that CTUSAB, the police, fire and prisons associations have been acting contrary to law with the blessing of Government since 1991. It would be sufficient to quote Section 24A (4) and parts of Section 24C of the Prisons Act to demonstrate my point:
24A (4): The Prison Officers Association shall be independent of and unassociated with any association outside the service, other than similar associations in and for Anguilla, Antigua, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent or Trinidad and Tobago.
24C (1) No member of the service shall be a member of an unauthorised association.
2) No unauthorised association shall offer to any member of the service, any benefit, whether financial or otherwise, neither shall any member accept any such benefit if offered.
(3) A member of the service who contravenes subsection (1) is liable to be dismissed from the service and to forfeit all rights to any pension or gratuity or other allowance.
(4) A person who contravenes subsection (2) is guilty of an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5 000.
(5) In this section, “unauthorised association” means
(a) a trade union as defined in Section 2 of the Trade Union Act.
For those who want to check, similar provisions can be found at Sections 44, 47 and 48 of the Police Act; and Sections 31 to 33 of the Fire Service Act. Additionally, it would appear that a police officer who associates with CTUSAB might be guilty of inciting mutiny in accordance with Section 32 of the Police Act.
It seems that successive political administrations and the administrations of the police force, fire service and prisons have ignored the law and allowed those organizations to function as trade unions. So far there has been no serious industrial disorder as a result of allowing those organizations to associate with unions since 1991. It is time that Government recognizes that the members of the three organizations are first and foremost workers and should be given the same rights as any other government worker.
Government cannot sensibly defend these ongoing breaches of the law.
The administration has no choice other than to enforce the law or repeal those offensive provisions. We have too many instances in this country where breaches of the law are ignored or officially sanctioned.
Breaches of the election laws come readily to mind, and so far there has been no action against perpetrators. Our society is in swift decline because people are following Government’s lead in ignoring the law.
• Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator. Email [email protected]