By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
EXECUTIVES at the Water and Sewerage Corporation claim that last week’s strike vote by the unions did not meet the requirements to be granted strike certificates.
When contacted yesterday, Labour Director John Pinder said the Water and Sewerage Management Union (WSMU) did not have the two-thirds majority vote required for a strike certificate. However, he said the union representing line staff, the Bahamas Utilities Services and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU), had the required votes mandated by their industrial agreement, however he added Ministry of Labour will have to certify the votes to say if the process was valid.
Meanwhile, a statement released by WSC’s board of directors also said there appeared to be “a joint effort on the part” of the leaders of the two unions to call a strike poll “in furtherance of a trade dispute between employers and employees, with the ultimate objective of bringing further upheaval”.
The WSC statement noted that, based on numbers it has received, 32 percent of its managers voted in favour of a strike, 19 percent against and 49 percent abstained.
“The Industrial Relations Act states that a representational count must be taken in such actions and no less than 60 percent of employees (two-thirds) in the bargaining unit must vote in favour,” WSC said.
The statement added that the constitution of the Water and Sewerage Management Union says that a decision to call a strike must be decided by two-thirds majority in a secret ballot.
“Given the same, the WSMU did not meet the lawful threshold for the issuance of a strike certificate. There have been concerns expressed about voting irregularities, ranging from former president’s changing of the time of the voting period from 10am to 6pm to persons seeking to prohibit the board’s secretary – who is a manager – from voting.”
Relative to BUSAWU, WSC said based on the available data thus far, out of 312 non-managers, nearly 34 percent voted in favour, 9 percent voted against and nearly 57 percent or 177 abstained.
BUSAWU’s constitution, according to WSC, states: “This union can only call a strike against a company after a majority vote of its members present at a meeting called for this purpose and who are eligible under prevailing statutes. This vote must be by secret ballot and must be conducted under conditions set out in the prevailing statutes.”
WSC added: “Given the statute, the two-thirds rule applies. With the current result, BUSAWU has not met that criteria. We understand that additional numbers are coming in from the Family Islands.”
Last Tuesday, members of BUSAWU and WSMU held a strike poll.
A successful strike poll is part of the requirement for a union to be granted a strike certificate by the Department of Labour.
In its statement, the WSC board renewed calls for “dispassionate” talks between the two sides, encouraging both BUSAWU President Dwayne Woods and former WMSU President Ednel Rolle to work to establish a “respectful” relationship with the corporation, one that places the advancement of staff and corporation at the fore.
The statement read: “We encourage both Mr Rolle and Mr Woods to speak directly to the corporation as opposed to promoting a charade in the media. Moreover, we encourage them (or any successor) to abide by the five step grievance process set out in each of the union’s industrial agreements. No part of that process speaks to issuing unproductive, untrue and/or defamatory media statements. There are much more important corporate wide goals for both unions to collaborate on that are far more important that seeking to have the executive chairman and the board dismissed.”
As it relates particularly to Mr Woods, the board said it has taken note of his public commentary related to the ongoing industrial unrest.
Specifically, the board said it has taken issue with Mr Woods’ claims about developing a relationship with the board and the executive management team, given his ongoing actions to undermine both.
“Notably, Mr Woods continues to bemoan the board’s decision to end his administrative leave and direct him to return to work. Mr Woods is well aware that he submits yearly requests for administrative leave (by letter) and that it is within the discretion of the board. The administrative leave applies solely to the president and is separate from the union leave. However, even if it union leave and administrative leave was the same—per Article 14.01 of the Industrial Agreement — it states that ‘an employee, elected to a permanent Union Office, which requires Union Leave, may be granted such leave, as the corporation determines….’ Given the same, it is evident that that remains within the purview of WSC.
“Unfortunately, Mr Woods has been disruptive ever since his administrative leave was terminated and he was ordered back to work. Last month, given his failure to report for duty, his $60,000 salary—which he enjoyed for nearly eight years without coming to work—was stopped. This, it appears, resulted in some of the recent actions. President Woods is encouraged to report for duty.”
The board further acknowledged that Mr Rolle’s term as leader of WSMU ended in March of this year.
Notwithstanding this, the board alleges that Mr Rolle has refused to call an election.
“One of the union’s trustees has written to the Department of Labour, urging them to intervene and force an election.
“Given the aforesaid, Mr Rolle — by law —cannot and ought not to have been allowed to have a strike poll,” the board stressed.