Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes.
By Rashad Rolle
Tribune Staff Reporter
LABOUR Minister Dion Foulkes is facing questions for giving the Water & Sewerage Management Union (WSMU) a strike certificate despite the union’s irregularities.
His decision was against the recommendation of Labour Director John Pinder and has left the Water & Sewerage Corporation board considering legal action, The Tribune understands.
On March 31 the tenure of WSMU’s executive team expired. However, new elections have not been held despite the union’s constitutional provisions. Mr Pinder believed that until the union holds an election, it does not have the power to hold a strike poll or receive a strike certificate. Mr Foulkes nonetheless signed WSMU’s strike certificate on May 1.
Mr Pinder has given WSMU officials until June 30 to hold an election, failing which he says he will intervene and force an election.
Cade Darling, a union trustee, said the union’s expired term is not the only thing that should have prevented Mr Foulkes from certifying the strike poll.
WSMU’s constitution requires that before a strike poll can be allowed, a two-thirds majority vote is required at a Special General Meeting featuring a quorum of 15 people.
Mr Darling said his union did not have a quorum, with only nine people present. WSMU President Ednel Rolle did not dispute this when contacted yesterday. He suggested that because two meetings were called, both of which lacked a quorum, he proceeded to hold a vote with those who showed up. “[Mr Darling’s] logic is flawed,” he said. “Thank God I have my strike certificate...”
Mr Foulkes could not be reached for comment this week.
Mr Darling said the source of the union’s irregularities is Mr Rolle’s devotion to a clause in their proposed industrial agreement that would give the union right of first refusal for business outsourced by the corporation. The clause, Article 29, says: “Consultation will be held with the union at the earliest opportunity to discuss any proposal for outsourcing of the corporation’s operations either in whole or selectively. Such consultations shall begin at least 90 calendar days before the proposed action takes effect. In the event that at Water and Sewerage Corporation portions of its operations and services are outsourced, in full or in part, existing employees seeking to provide the services either individually or within partnerships shall have right of exclusively to bid for such services. Such exclusivity shall be limited to nine calendar days after the start of consultations or advising the union. Employees shall be allowed to bid for such services either individually or within arranged partnerships, either among each other provided that partnership is incorporated under the laws of the Bahamas and the employee or employees hold a minimum of 70 percent ownership in such companies. Companies formed in such cases shall also be allowed to bid on future services that have been outsourced.”
The clause was in the last agreement signed between the union and the government. However, the union took legal action in 2015 after the corporation sent out an invitation for tenders in 2013 for a project to supply desalinated water to several Family Island communities. The contract was awarded to Watermakers Incorporation in 2015. The union said it was not given a copy of the invitation to tender or the contract as the industrial agreement required.
Lawyers for WSC argued the clause was only intended to help WSC employees affected by redundancy exercises. To give active employees the right of first refusal would breach the industrial agreement’s conflict of interest provisions, they said. Ultimately, then Acting Justice Brian Moree ruled in favour of the union. The industrial agreement has since expired. As parties look to negotiate a new one, the clause has become a sticking point with the government refusing to allow it. Mr Darling believes Mr Rolle has lost the support of most union members who would accept the removal of the clause so that a new agreement can be signed. He believes Mr Rolle, desperate to keep the clause and fearing election defeat, has delayed the election.