Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister.
By LEANDRA ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
WORKS Minister Desmond Bannister said on Friday he has no intentions to meet with unions representing Water & Sewerage Corporation after officials urged workers to take industrial action this week stemming from grievances with the utility provider.
This comes after Mr Bannister told Tribune Business on Tuesday that he had planned to meet with Water & Sewerage Management Union (WSMU) and Bahamas Utilities Services & Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU) officials on Thursday after they called on their members to block all phone calls from Adrian Gibson, WSC executive chairman, and Elwood Donaldson, WSC general manager.
The two unions, in a joint statement entitled "enough is enough", also urged members to "immediately exit all Water & Sewerage Corporation What's App chat groups" and "turn in all cell phones" belonging to the utility.
Asked how the meetings went, Mr Bannister told reporters he would not meet with anyone who takes industrial action before discussions are held. The deputy prime minister also said he thought unions would’ve understood the depth of COVID’s impact especially considering the fact that many Bahamians will not be able to feed their families this Christmas.
He told reporters on Friday: “Listen, ya’ll live in the Bahamas. All of us have been in this pandemic with the lockdowns and everything this year. In my constituency in Carmichael, which is a middleclass community, there are people who don’t have food, all over this island.
“I would’ve thought that any union that has mature leadership would’ve understood that and put all of their members together and say ‘listen, this is a national effort, let’s do something for the Bahamas. Let’s do something for Bahamians. This is Christmas time and let’s make a difference in the lives of Bahamians’.
“But, don’t say you want to meet with me and then you call industrial action. That makes no sense and I hope that the leadership of those unions and say ‘listen, let’s take a collection together and let’s go in some community in our country and let’s make a difference in the lives of some children and some people who may not be able to eat this Christmas and let’s talk about a Christmas bonus afterwards when there’s some money in the country.’
“So, no I’m not going to meet with anybody who calls industrial action before I meet with them.”
The unions are upset with the water provider’s decision not to pay out Christmas bonuses this month, allegedly deviating from provisions set out in the workers’ industrial agreement.
Both bodies also pointed to the Corporation's alleged "failure" to complete and negotiate industrial agreements with each of them, as well as "unilaterally varying the terms and conditions of the industrial agreement with respect" to accrued vacation and "transferring day workers to shift workers without consultation and agreement".
Others concerns expressed by the unions are related to the alleged failure to "pay overtime associated with Hurricane Dorian for both unions”.
Mr Gibson earlier this year said the corporation was facing a $30.8m "backlog" on payments due to vendors at end-August 2020, a sum that continues to grow, and a $15m-plus year-over-year decline in revenue for the year to-date.
"Frankly, the Water & Sewerage Corporation is in dire straits," he said. "Our operating cash flow cannot sustain monthly payments for vendors and payroll.
“These challenges have resulted in a backlog of supplier payments that are steadily growing, and there's concern about monthly payroll for the balance of 2020. Our vendor payments backlog as at August 27, 2020, was some $30.8m."
Mr Gibson said this payable covered everything from monies owed to third-party contractors; vehicle and building insurance; and loans due to multilateral institutions such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Caribbean Development Bank (CDB).