|Labour ministry intervenes in JPSCo Bogue plant strike
|CHARMAINE N CLARKE, Western Bureau editor
Wednesday, November 27, 2002
MONTEGO BAY -- In an effort to get the JPSCo's US$126-million Bogue expansion project back on track, the Ministry of Labour has called an 11:00 am meeting for today between the Colombian contractors and the unions that represent the roughly 100 workers who went on strike Monday.
"The Ministry of Labour's conciliatory department has called us to a meeting... in Kingston with a view to try and resolve the issue," explained the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union's (BITU's) Earl Wedderburn. "What we would like to do is to see that normality is restored on the project, that's one of the chief aims of going to the meeting."
Workers employed to do electrical and mechanical work for Schrader Camargo withdrew their services Monday to press for a wage increase that would take their salary on par with JPSCo workers at the same site. They stayed off the job again yesterday and have vowed not to return to work until the issue is addressed.
On the first day of the strike, the company contended that there was a contract in place until March 2003 and it appeared that a salary increase before then was unlikely. Yesterday, Wedderburn would not speculate on the outcome of the negotiations, preferring to wait until today's meeting had been concluded.
"There is a collective agreement in force and what came about is something new. We'll wait and see until the outcome of tomorrow's meeting," he said guardedly.
The collective agreement was signed between Schrader Camargo and representatives of the National Workers Union and the BITU on August 24 this year. According to the agreement, the workers agreed not to take any form of industrial action and the company agreed not to lock them out.
The agreement took effect on March 25 and expires at the end of March 2003, when the project is scheduled for completion. But on Monday, some workers contended that they were unaware of the document and said the unions had not acted in their best interests.
However, Wedderburn rejected the allegations, saying the workers had been consulted before the unions had entered into the agreement.
"I am the person in charge, and from the outset they have been parties to it. Everything that you have seen in that (document) they gave us proposals, we sat, we discussed and amicably came to a conclusion which was accepted by all parties," he said. "And the agreement was signed on the premises where meetings were held with them and signed by five of their own colleagues, their worker delegates who were elected by them, not me."
The expansion project is a vital cog in the JPSCo's long-term plan to boost its generating capacity and prevent unscheduled power outages, but it has been plagued by problems since work began in January this year.