February 3, 2006
Watchmen at centre of dispute

Attempts to settle a potential industrial dispute surfacing at the Ministry of Transport and Works are expected to go into high gear today, Friday, February 3.

That will be at a meeting between a number of Watchmen employed with the Transport and Works Ministry and executive members of the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU). The session is carded for Union House in Kingstown. {{more}}That gathering will decide the next step in relations between the CTAWU and the authorities at the Transport and Works Ministry.

The CTAWU is up in arms with the Transport and Works Ministry over the dismissal and threats of dismissal of Watchmen employed in that Ministry.

CTAWU’s general secretary Lloyd Small is not pleased with the reasons outlined for sending letters to at least eight watchmen, all CTAWU members.

Small responded by letter dated January 27 to the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Leon Snagg. Small is contesting the reason given for the workers’ dismissal.

According to Small, “The reason given (the reorganisation of the Ministry’s watchmen services) is a pretext for terminating the services of those watchmen.”

Small pointed out that the Protection of Employment Act 2003 states that “Any employer terminating the services of five or more employees simultaneously or successively on the ground of redundancy, shall inform the recognised trade union, and the Labour Commissioner, one month before in writing.”

The general secretary chided the Ministry who, he declared, “fractured the good relationship which has been the strong pillar on which our social dialogue rested.”

Small asked: “Why should the architect and guardian of the law be allowed to break the same law he or she created?”

The issue seems to have assumed political proportions. Small stated that the majority of the workers claimed that their dismissal was based on the fact that they have different political views from their employers.

Rene Baptiste, the newly appointed Labour Minister, wanted to see “that particular Union agreement, so that I can make a reasonable conclusion in relation to the matter of being in contravention of the Protection of Employment Act.”

Baptiste, a former Tourism and Culture Minister, retained her West Kingstown seat at the December 7 general elections. She has been given new responsibilities including that of Labour.

She went on: “Before I can comment on who is right or who is wrong, I would like also to speak with the Minister in relation to that.”

She outlined that she wanted to be “seized of the facts. I don’t like to express an opinion on it.”

Baptiste was just out of a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office when contacted. She stated that the Unity Labour Party “has not dismissed any body.” She admitted that as Minister of Labour, she received a copy of the CTAWU”s letter to the Ministry of Transport and Works. She further indicated that she wanted to speak with the Minister of Transport and Works “so that I can get the facts of the action taken by that Ministry.”