By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
MORTON Salt workers yesterday threw support behind an impending three-day union strike following what they described as years of “blatant disrespect” from the company.
According to Jennifer Brown, President of the Bahamas Industrial Manufacturers and Allied Workers Union (BIMAWU), employees were fed up that Morton Salt has refused to negotiate the conditions of an industrial agreement. Labourers at the salt plant, in Mathew Town, Inagua, she said, have been operating without an agreement for the last five years.
Ms Brown was speaking yesterday at the House of Labour on Wulff Road where Trade Union Congress (TUC) executives reiterated threats to shut down the country’s operations in an effort to gain the government’s attention to long-standing issues.
Despite continuous meetings with Labour Minister Shane Gibson, TUC officials insisted that industrial action is coming.
“The leaders as well as the members (of the BIMAWU),” Ms Brown said, “are suffering and they are disrespected. The Department of Labour has not been able to cause an agreement to be negotiated between Morton and the BIMAWU. Both Labour and the tribunal seem incapable of bringing this matter to closure.
“I say disrespect because they realise that we don’t have a signed agreement. They tend to treat employees whichever way they want to. Right now we have variation of the work week which is one of the issues we have with the company. They will call you today tell you that your work week has changed and you have to come to work tomorrow. You are expected to do that. They do what they have to do without union consultation and advise you afterwards. Sometimes they don’t even advise you.
“With the contract the employees want their wage increased. We were negotiating since last year and then we had an issue come up at the company. They refused to continue the negotiations until the results of whatever the tribunal says. So although it’s law, they are still waiting on what the tribunal says. It’s not fair to the workers.”
Wilfred Seymour, the BIMAWU vice-president, called on Mr Gibson to exercise his power with a view to bringing the issues to a close.
However, Mr Gibson told The Tribune yesterday that the government could only advise both sides to negotiate in good faith because it was a private matter.
“There is nothing in law that gives the government the authority to force an employer to negotiate,” he said. “You are asking the government to interfere in private sector business.
“Have the union referred to any section of the law where it says the government has the authority to instruct either side. If they want to see the law change they can agitate for that, but it would mean that if the government instructs one side they have to instruct the other side.
“The most we can do is urge both sides to negotiate in good faith.”
As for when the three-day strike will take place, union officials still had no confirmation yesterday. More than 24 affiliate unions, which equates to several thousand workers, would withdraw their labour if a strike happens, officials said.
Attempts to reach Morton Salt were unsuccessful up to press time.