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President's Message

Tyrone G. Maynard

2017 was a very challenging year for the National Workers Union (NWU). While we were successful in completing over twelve (12) industrial agreements, we still have a number of negotiations still far from completion.

During the various rounds of negotiations, most of the companies the NWU met kept complaining of the current deteriorating economic situation and its negative impact on business operations. What was quite revealing was the positive response from companies to have their books examined and the willingness to share information that was never before made available to unions in the history of collective bargaining in Saint Lucia. That spoke volumes.

Amidst all of this, the NWU developed a strategy that made it possible to handle negotiations on a sectoral basis. Instead of using percentage increase across the board the union resorted to wage adjustments, which were painfully accepted within the said sector. This approach offered the opportunity to set minimum positions within the sector, deal with wages on a comparative basis and establish wage scales and ranges that would eventually be triggered by appraisals, operational performance and an incentive-based regime. The NWU strongly appreciates the acceptance of the revised thrust by employers which will definitely create a more rewarding wage structure in the various sectors.

Most of our industrial negotiation settlements had to be done at domestic level in an effort to avoid the conciliatory, mediation and tribunal processes set up and administered by the Government. Unfortunately, these three stages are often laborious and demonstrate the lack of preparedness and capacity to play effectively, the custodial role of our industrial relations process in the country.

Unfortunately, over the years, we have seen the Ministry of Labour treated as an appendage. Despite suggestions emanating from both labour and capital regarding the way forward for the Ministry of Labour and its Department of Labour, it is clear that no one cares. We must not forget that industrial relations is a dynamic process and very little should be done to interfere or impede the will of industrial democracy.

When the existing Labour Code was being prepared, the National Workers Union was consulted. The NWU submitted its concerns on the final document. The union was given certain assurances that its input would be seriously taken into consideration and would form part of the Document that would be sent to Parliament. It is obvious that these concerns fell on deaf ears.

During the political campaign for the passage of the Labour Code workers were sold on the idea that the Labour Code after its passage would make provisions for those workers who felt that they could not continue their employment with their employer; they could tender their resignation and would receive a handsome cheque as compensation for their years of service. Many workers have taken that action only to realize that this is far from the truth or reality.

In fact what the Labour Code has done is to provide Government with a wonderful opportunity to issue workers with contractual engagement ranging from three (3) months, six (6) months and one (1) year. Strange as it may seem, as soon as your contractual period of three (3) months is over, you could be issued with a new contract or a non-renewal letter. Should you receive a new contract, your employment starts from the said new date. That trend has implications for a worker’s years of service with the company as well as vacation pay, entitlements, notice pay and maternity leave. These contractual arrangements limit your capacity to apply and receive a bank loan, apply for a US Visa, engage in higher purchase transactions. This provision interferes with a worker’s dignity. It begs the question: what was the intention of those who piloted such a piece of legislation and its contents. For us at the National Workers Union (NWU), this has been and continues to be, a major concern.

Whether we like it or not, we must understand that we are dealing with a younger generation, with more youthful workers. These workers are not prepared to go through the kind of delaying tactics and procrastination that is used regularly to frustrate.

The Leadership of the National Workers Union (NWU) and its membership will continue to play its role and will speak out when things are not done properly in Saint Lucia. 2018 will not be easy so we must brace ourselves..
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