Members of the Trades Union Council said they will not sit idly by and see the rights of workers be trampled upon as government rushed to pass in parliament Grenada’s revised Labour Code.
Trade unions in Grenada are showing indifference to a move being made by the ruling New National Party (NNP) administration to effect some changes to the island’s Labour Code.
President of the Trade Union Council (TUC), Kenny James and the heads and some senior executive members of other trade unions – Grenada Technical and Allied Workers Union (GTAWU), Grenada Union of Teachers (GUT), Commercial and Industrial Workers Union (CIWU), Bank and General Workers Union and the Labour Representative in the Senate, Ray Roberts met with reporters at a press conference last Thursday at the PWU building to express their reservations about the proposed changes.
The conference was called to alert workers of the actions taking place in relation to the revised Labour Code and to assure workers that that they would do all within their power to ensure the new document will not put them at a disadvantage.
The revised Labour Code which will be made up of the Employment act, Labour Relations act and Occupational Health and Safety will be introduced shortly by in Parliament.
The President of the TUC warned that none of the union would agree to any conditions that are less than what is contained in the present Labour Code.
“This document which contains the employment act and the labour relations act and all the other amendments to this piece of legislation is of great importance to us as Unions …not only for the persons that we represent but for the wider community – a construction worker, domestic worker, agricultural worker who may not have union representation”, he said.
“…We as trade unions want to ensure that the best arrangement, the best piece of legislation is in place to offer necessary protection to these workers,” added James who is a school teacher by profession.
The TUC representative on the Labour Advisory Board is President of the TAWU, Andre Lewis who said that the umbrella trade union body is in favour of an amicable solution to some of the amendments that government is hoping to include or exclude in the revised Labour Code.
He cited one of the burning issues as a suggestion from government to make contract work a dominant feature at the workplace throughout the country.
“…We are aware that the government itself has been practicing this (contract work …where there is an employment agency set up to hire nurses, pay them little or nothing at all, something that the government could pay directly to the workers…it affects the issue of the tenure of workers,” he said.
According to Lewis, the Keith Mitchell-led government wants the TUC to limit itself in relation to the fight against contract work to just workplaces with collective agreement and this is something the body cannot do.
“We gave a commitment to the workers of this country that the Labour Code set the minimum standard. Our collective agreement would have standards that are higher…but we would ensure that not one iota is being given up in terms of the benefits of the working people of this country,
“…The TUC will not allow for this amendment to be just limited to a round the table discussion, we would not limit ourselves to a discussion that takes place at the conference room at the Department of the Ministry of Labour. This is a national issue.
Lewis told reporters that while the TUC welcomes the inclusion of the Sexual Harassment Bill, employers are suggesting that it should not be included in the revised code and that Grenada should be governed by ILO conventions.
“The difficulty with that is that you would be aware the ILO conventions are not laws in Grenada and even if the government was to ratify an ILO convention, what needs to be done is that it has to be brought into local law and given the importance of the matter of protecting our women folks on the job in particular, it is extremely important to have these made into law,” he explained.
The newly elected TAWU President charged that gone are the days when work was for thanks while highlighting that this was another attempt by employers to infringe upon the rights of workers.
“There is an issue when an employee is on annual vacation leave, that employee is asked to report to work, the employer does not want to pay that employee over time rates or time by two but want it to be at the discretion of the employer to grant time off to that employee”, he said.
“Our position is very clear, work is for pay and it would have to be at a decision of the employee whether they want to receive pay or whether they want to receive time off in lieu of pay, whether or not they want to receive some other payment in kind, that must be in the domain of the worker. Gone are the days when work is for thanks or for kind,” he added.
Lewis called on workers throughout the country to pay close attention to the actions surrounding the revision of the labour code as it would affect everyone in the end.
Like Lewis, First Vice-President of PWU, Rachel Roberts raised serious concerns over the move towards contract work by government.
Roberts expressed fears that contract work will threaten “the very fabric of the Public Service which is governed by the Constitution”.
“…We are not as a public service union going to uphold any changes within the Labour Code that would suggest in any way that our members would be disadvantaged and would have to remain as contract officers forever, within the government service”, she remarked.
“We know this affects their stability of tenure, this affects their ability to develop socially within the country. They are not able to go to the bank for loans and that is already affecting us and as a union that represents public officers, we are not going to allow such to happen and for the Labour Code to be changed negatively,” she said.
During the recent Labour Day celebrations at Fond Playing field in Sauteurs, the TUC dropped strong hints that there could be a change in the peaceful industrial climate in the country as some contentious and sensitive issues will soon be put on the table for resolution with the Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration.