Tuesday, 08 May 2012 02:30
By Everton Barnes
Antigua St John's - Antigua and Barbuda experienced relative industrial calm over the past year and Labour Minister, Senator Dr Errol Cort, is placing much of the credit for this at the feet of the trade union movement in the country.
Addressing Monday’s Labour Day rally organized by the Antigua and Barbuda Trade Union Congress, Cort highly commended the unions for demonstrating a sense of cooperation with employers and government that led to the absence of any major industrial action over the past twelve months.
“Not withstanding the regional and global challenges, I wish to commend the trade unions for demonstrating a sense of responsibility in their negotiations, a sense of responsibility in their demands and sense of responsibility in understanding the economic climate in which we operate. Yes, there have been a few industrial relations actions, but all in all, in my view, everything has been going reasonably well,” he declared.
Cort referred to one on-going negotiation – that between LIAT management and its workers – as one that is of particular concern for him and the government.
“I wish to say that I am looking forward to an amicable solution to this issue. LIAT is a vital Caribbean institution, and we all need to ensure the long-term survival of that institution,” he stated.
The minister noted LIAT employs hundreds of Antiguans and Barbudans and that there was need to protect those jobs here in Antigua and Barbuda, a reference to suggestions that the airline intended to make workers redundant here in Antigua and Barbuda and move some of these jobs to Barbados. He also spoke of the need for the airline to run as a profitable entity.
“We also recognize that LIAT must run as an efficient organization and I am confident that the unions involved in the negotiations recognized that particular situation and have demonstrated a willingness to work with management to ensure the profitability of the airline,” he added.
The minister also spoke of the contributions of out-going Chief Executive Officer, Brian Challenger, whose calm approach to negotiations at the level of the Labour
Ministry ‘will be missed’.
Senator Cort also disclosed that work on the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code is nearing completion and that the draft legislation will soon go before parliament for approval ‘thereby giving workers greater rights than they enjoyed hitherto’. Similar legislation dealing with Health and Safety and an upgraded Workman’s Compensation will also soon find their way to parliament for approval.
During the rally, Cort presented a cheque for $35,000.00 to the ABTUC as government’s contribution to the work of that organization. New TUC President, Kim Burton, accepted on behalf of the TUC.
In his address, Burton said the political, financial and economic systems that exist today have eroded or taken away workers’ dignity. “They have robbed us of a decent standard of living and reduced many of us around the world back into wage slavery,” he noted.
He called on workers to stand united: united in purpose and resolve. “We must be resolved to be good, decent and productive citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, to expect and demand excellence in all areas of our individual lives and to expect excellence from each other and from our leaders and government. We must demand integrity and honesty from them too. Remember Calypso Latumba in his late ‘70’s song ‘workers unite and stand up for what is right’,” he added.
For her part, President of the Antigua and Barbuda Union of Teachers, Vernest Mack, said her union understands the value of members of the labour movement bonding for their collective self-interest.
“All of our trade unions need to value highly the intricacies often involved in defending the rights of workers, we have a responsibility of ensuring that workers’ rights are not trampled upon,” she said.
She noted that scores of teachers are still awaiting their upgrade after years of completing higher education and professional qualification.
Representatives of the Met Office Workers Association, the Guild of Air Traffic Controllers as well as representatives from the airline engineers association and the hotel management association also addressed the gathering.
Following the speeches, the gathering with Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer in attending, and UPP supporters took part in a march through St John’s. The numbers taking part in the march was much smaller than in previous years, and this may be attributed to the inclement weather conditions.