By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
RISING tensions between Morton Salt Bahamas and its line-staff union resulted in a 40-worker “sick-out” yesterday and the company suspending several workers for a week.
Jennifer Brown, president of the Bahamas Industrial, Manufacturers & Allied Workers Union (BIMAWU), which represents around 100 line staff at the company’s Inagua operations, told Tribune Business that the company was attempting to “intimidate” workers after several employees were either warned or suspended from their jobs.
“The workers are disgruntled because they don’t feel as though the company is taking their safety concerns seriously,” she said. “The company is trying to make a case against the workers. Three persons, two truck drivers and a heavy equipment operator, have been suspended.
“After that happened, some of the workers decided that they weren’t going to work their shifts on Wednesday, and on Thursday we had a sick-out. At least about 40 persons called in sick. I don’t know if corporate office is aware of what is going on down here.”
Two of the suspended workers were warned in February 6 letters, seen by Tribune Business, that they “may have violated your last chance agreement” from last year and be facing possible termination/dismissal.
The letters, signed by Michael Nixon, Morton Salt’s general manager, alleged that the workers had breached Article 2.1 in the industrial agreement between the company and union. This calls for both sides “to secure the well-being of employees” while assuring “the efficient and economic operation” of the Inagua-based salt harvester.
Morton Salt, indicating its intention to initiate disciplinary proceedings, told the suspended staff that they will be notified before February 14 of when the meetings to determine their fate will be held. They were also given an opportunity to submit a written statement detailing their side of events.
John Pinder, director of labour, said he had received no official report of any industrial unrest at Morton Bahamas but added: “I heard that something is brewing, but nothing official. No one has said anything to us as yet, but I do know that the union is in possession of a strike certificate. I think the employer’s concern is that the workers are on work-to-rule.”
Morton Salt earlier this week issued warning letters to three employees over what it classified as an “intentional slowdown”. But Ms Brown previously rejected suggestions the union had instigated this. She told Tribune Business that workers have expressed safety concerns and any action was merely precautionary.
“Equipment needs to be fixed, trucks need to be fixed, the road to the crystalisers needs to be fixed, and the guys say they are not going to work like that any more,” Ms Brown said. “The employees are taking caution, and the company has an issue with that.
“We have two ships at the dock now, and the company is accusing them of deliberately slowing down. They gave some persons letters of warning. Persons have been putting stuff on social media about what’s going on, but I can say that there is no deliberate work stoppage or slowdown, not to my knowledge. That is not what’s happening.”
She added: “There are a lot of safety concerns and they know about it. They want the guys to go out in the trucks to deal with these boats but they know the concerns.”
Morton Salt, in a statement sent to Tribune Business on Wednesday, said: “At Morton, the safety and security of our employees is of the utmost importance. Earlier this week, we were contacted by union representatives who provided our team with a list of facility and equipment repairs to address.
“Nearly all of the items shared were already being proactively addressed and resolved by our maintenance and health and safety teams as part of our standard operating procedures and processes. We will continue to assess, address and resolve the remaining items in a timely manner to ensure we continue to safely meet our production goals.”
The union has in recent months gone public over its dispute with Morton Salt regarding a new industrial agreement. Ms Brown recently told this newspaper that the union, which represents some 100-line staff at Inagua’s largest employer, had been been “pushed” to take strike action after the company made no improvements to its purported counter-offer. The threat of industrial unrest has loomed over Morton Salt’s Inagua operations since late last year.
Morton Salt said yesterday: “For the past year, Morton Bahamas has met in good faith with union representatives in an effort to reach a new labour agreement. We’ve also worked together with a conciliator to help drive toward resolution. Unfortunately, the parties have not yet reached an agreement. Until then, we encourage our employees to continue working safely and diligently during ongoing contract negotiations.”