November 25, 2016

SSL workers should have spoken to NWM before going public – Jackson

When workers at the St Vincent Shipyard Limited (SSL) complained to the media about their wage issues, they were exercising their democratic right to do so, but were in breach of Clause Nine of the collective agreement signed between their Union and SSL.

On Monday, angry and frustrated SSL workers told SEARCHLIGHT that since July, the company was only paying them half of their wages, while Pay as You Earn (PAYE), National Insurances Services (NIS) and loan deductions were being taken out of their salaries, but not being paid in.{{more}}

But according to National Workers Movement (NWM) President Noel Jackson, the workers should have sought the advice of the NWM before going public with the wage issue.

On Wednesday, during a press briefing at the SSL in Ottley Hall, Jackson noted that Clause Nine of the Collective Agreement (signed earlier this year between the SSL and the NWM) has a section entitled “Propaganda and Publicity” and states, “the employer and the union agree that neither side must use propaganda that causes or is likely to cause (A) resentment against either the employer or the union or individual members of either including the workers because of unjust criticism and allegations and (B) Opposition to authority and discipline (Subsection Two) except were industrial action is taken or contemplated under the terms of this agreement. The employer and the union agrees that releases to the public of any information relating to any meetings negotiations or discussions which may at any time take place between the employer and the Union shall be done by the mutual consent of the parties.”

Jackson said that it was within this spirit that the news briefing was called, as both parties try to come to an amicable solution over the number of issues affecting the SSL and its employees.

He noted that managing director of SSL Daniel Ravotti has stated and the NWM is satisfied that the company is experiencing financial issues, but none of the articles published on the issue had the SSL’s side of the story.

He noted that it was portrayed by the media that the company was owing workers an exorbitant amount of wages and that was not the case.

He said that the company owes a number of workers sick leave money and although this may be the case and persons are frustrated, the NWM has been able to get the SSL to make a dent in the payments through constant intervention, but none of this was reported.

Jackson stressed that persons must be careful not to make a bad situation worse and that the SSL workers are members of the Union, which is there to try to protect their interest as much as possible.

“This does not mean that I should create a situation where they end up outside the gate without the possibility of earning anything to help their families or without the possibility of getting their severance and other benefits. That is not how I have been trained and the environment that is being created has the potential to create that, so I stand in between and I am standing very firm as it relates to protecting the interest of the members of the Union,” stressed Jackson, who noted that although the ideal situation does not exist at SSL, the company is working to remedy the issues and the NWM is aware of this.

Jackson noted that while Ravotti wanted to close down the shipyard for a month and operate on a skeleton staff, a meeting on Monday between the NWM and the SSL sorted out a number of things and it was decided that to close during one of the biggest Christian holidays of the year was a bad idea.

He said that it is a fact that wages were short and NIS, PAYE and a number of loans and utilities were not paid, but persons must understand that the company is going through a harsh period and if it manages to overcome this, these monies will be paid.

“We have to make some hard decisions that at times do not allow us to sleep well, but are aimed at protecting the interest of the members of the union.

“We called the workers in here, all of them, and it was outlined to them,” said Jackson, who noted that they were given two scenarios: close for a month or go back to work and produce sufficiently, so that everybody can get a piece of the pie.

He stressed that the workers voted unanimously to go back to the yard.

He stressed that media reports carried one side and persons on the radio were spreading propaganda with the objective of destroying and defaming.

“We have to stop it, as we need all the support we can get. We signed a collective agreement with SSL and what is marvellous, is that no one called to ask me for a copy, so that they read it and publish the benefits that we have negotiated, albeit, because of the cash flow problems some of the things can’t be implemented, but it is there in black and white that we can demand it at any time and if the company turns around its fortunes financially, it is there for us to demand it and that is the important thing about a collective agreement and negotiations, but nobody, no one, none the media houses, none the radio stations called to ask for a copy,” argued Jackson.

He said that persons should show interest in the positives at SSL and not “only when some negativity come up you want to create an atmosphere to take away what little opportunity the worker has to earn something. It is not right and I know I go get some licks for speaking this way.

“…I could say a lot of things about SSL more than you know and could imagine, but if I do that what you think could happen? Those few brothers in the yard might be out the gate, scrunting without any possibly of something coming and I can’t do that,” stressed Jackson.

On Monday, when SEARCHLIGHT visited the site at Ottley Hall and tried to get a comment from Jackson as he drove into the compound, he declined, saying he was on his way to a meeting with management and would comment later.

Up to the time SEARCHLIGHT went to press on Monday night, neither Jackson nor the management of SSL could have been reached for an update on the situation.