Current Affairs

Current Affairs




Union to boycott labour ministry
Minister says unions' decision unfortunate
Observer Reporter
Wednesday, February 12, 2003

NELSON... we note with alarm the speed with which the ministry takes out injunctions against workers where disputes exist

JAMAICA'S trade unions, claiming that the labour ministry lacks conciliation skills and is too quick to send labour quarrels to the Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT), vowed last night to boycott conciliatory meetings at the ministry as well as its agencies dealing with labour reform issues.

The Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) says that it will take its position today in a face-to-face meeting with development minister, Dr Paul Robertson, who Prime Minister P J Patterson gave the job of preparing the groundwork for his proposed renewal of social contract negotiations between the Government, trade unions and the private sector.

ROBERTSON... scheduled to meet with unions today

On the face of it, the JCTU's action is a direct attack not on the labour ministry's conciliation department, but more particularly on its head Gresford Smith, who has worked at the ministry for 22 years. Smith took over as director of industrial relations from the highly respected Tony Irons when Irons was promoted as permanent secretary and eventual retirement from the ministry.

"We are concerned that this department has proven itself incapable of providing the necessary level of assistance to parties engaged in industrial disputes," the JCTU said in its statement, signed by general secretary Lloyd Goodleigh and two vice-presidents, Hopeton Caven and Dwight Nelson.

DALLEY... I will be requesting to meet, as minister, with the JCTU before the week is out

Goodleigh is also general secretary of the National Workers Union (NWU), while Caven heads the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and Nelson is a vice-president of the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU).

"So as to bring the government's attention in as forceful a way as possible, the member unions of the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions will as of today's date no longer attend meeting called by the Ministry of Labour," they added.

It was not only conciliation meetings which will be subject to the JCTU boycott, but sessions of the:

* National Labour Advisory Committee;

* committees dealing with minimum wage;

* National Steering Committee on Child Labour;

* Labour Information Systems Commissions; and

* Steering Committee for the National Productivity Centre.

Horace Dalley, the labour minister, last night described the JCTU's decision as "unfortunate" but said that he still hoped to talk, by today, with officials of the umbrella body for the labour movement "to see what triggered these concerns or their actions right now".

It would also seek a formal meeting with the organisation this week to explore the issues.

"I will be requesting to meet, as minister, with the JCTU before the week is out to listen to some of their concerns and to raise some of the concerns that I have, too," Dalley said.

Dalley, who also said that he was on a programme of reform, was surprised at the lack of confidence in the conciliation department, noting that it was largely the same persons who have been there for the past six years.

"There are 11 officers in the IR department and they are constantly going through training and upgrading," he said. "... we had one major departure in the last four months -- Mr Irons."

The most immediate substantial conciliation issue the labour ministry has before it is the pay dispute between the Government and the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA), over which teachers have struck for the past two days.

The education ministry has referred the matter to the labour ministry, which has summoned the parties to a meeting tomorrow, but JTA president Sadie Comrie could not say last night whether her union would adhere to the boycott.

"...We got a letter from them (JCTU) today and we are currently studying the implications of it," Comrie told the Observer. "At this time, therefore, I cannot make a statement."

The trade union grouping cited relatively recent cases where it apparently believed that the labour ministry acted precipitously in sending matters to the IDT, a three-member tribunal that rules on disputes that can't be settled by negotiations.

Among them was last month's pay dispute between the medical technologists and the health ministry over a pay differentials. The medical technologists are to face the court for defying the IDT's back-to-work order and for refusing to appear before the tribunal, which they claimed rules in favour of the Government.

They also complained about the labour ministry's handling of a dispute between the Jamaica Public Service Company and the BITU and the NWU of the regrading of salaries at the light and power company at which the IDT was asked to adjudicate, and last year's strike at the Windalco alumina refineries when the NWU shut down the facility over a dispute on what portion of their insurance coverage workers should pay.

"We note with alarm the speed with which the ministry takes out injunctions against workers where disputes exist," the JCTU said. "We note with even greater alarm the action of the director of public prosecutions, acting on behalf of the minister of labour, in issuing summons to appear before the court where workers dare to protest against injustice."