By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
TRADE Union Congress president Obie Ferguson has revealed that a court ruling has cleared the way for the first general union in The Bahamas.
“We can announce publicly now that the court has ruled that we can have in The Bahamas a general union, and the first general union is now the General Workers Union,” he told The Tribune.
According to Mr Ferguson, veteran trade unionist Thomas Bastian is the president of the GWU, which can represent any worker from anywhere. “Anybody from anywhere can join that union, it does not matter who you are … so don’t let them tell you you can’t get other people to join a union,” he said.
Mr Ferguson said trade union leaders are the guardians for workers in the country. “Sir Randol and Sir Clifford and all the good trade union people have gone, and they left us something and it is our job to preserve it. We are here as the guardian to speak up for workers – it is a privilege to hold the position we hold,” he said.
The TUC president stressed that the labour laws need to be amended. In the Employment Act, he thinks that the legal requirement of 60 per cent for agency shop is not realistic.
“You must have 60 per cent of the workers in the bargaining unit for agency shop – that is nonsense. You need 50 plus one per cent to get the union and then you need 60 plus to get agency shop – now what kind of thinking is that? Successive governments have ignored it.”
Mr Ferguson said that there is also a provision in the Act that deprives workers of their entitlement to both gratuity and redundancy pay. “You can’t get gratuity and redundancy pay. Why can’t you get what you earn? They say you must make a choice,” he said.
The Act also fails to address the issue of commission workers, said Mr Ferguson. “Commission workers have not been structured or incorporated in the Employment Act, and insurance companies are calling them independent contractors, contract workers, buy-out workers and all kind of names. The employers say they are independent contractors because they do not want to pay for vacation, sick and maternity leave, and this kind of thing in Freeport is becoming ubiquitous, and it is designed so the worker does not get what he or she is entitled to,” he said.
Another issue of concern, he indicated, is the lack of provision for a redundancy fund. He said several companies have closed down in Freeport and have left without paying workers what they are entitled to. “Some workers are still trying to find out who the owner/employer is because in The Bahamas we allow them to come in and set up some fakey company, and … they leave owing national insurance, BTC and a list of others,” he said.
Mr Ferguson stressed that labour relations in The Bahamas should be structured so that when the investors come in and leave, the Bahamian people are not shortchanged. “We have to take care of the Bahamian people. Every good government’s and every country’s first obligation must be to its citizens,” he said.
Mr Ferguson said it is unacceptable that public servants are still classified as temporary workers after 16 years and that, for too long, public servants and workers are not properly compensated when they work on public holidays.
“If you work on a public holiday, you are entitled to be paid for three days, not two. But they are saying when you work they give you double time. But if you didn’t show up for work on the holiday you get a full pay for one day, and the law says if you work on your holiday you are paid double time for working – so that adds up to three days,” he said.
Mr Ferguson said that the same applies to managers. “Whilst you may not be entitled to overtime as a manager unless it is by contract, if that manager works on a public holiday the same thing applies. We have to make sure workers are aware of these things.” he said.
Another matter of grave concern, Mr Ferguson said is Scotiabank’s firing of so many Bahamian workers, especially when the government has given them concessions for so many years. “When I look in the paper people are losing their homes and Scotiabank has been firing workers, some after 23 years, and want to give them nothing much for the years of service,” he said.
Mr Ferguson is disturbed by the things that are going on in the country regarding labour and said he will be addressing them at the Labour Day March. He is calling on workers to be united and attend the Labour Day activities and church service at Bethel Baptist at Meeting Street, Nassau, and at Central Zion Baptist Church in Eight Mile Rock, Grand Bahama, on June 7.