News, Regional News

Preconco suspends workers for attending meeting with labour minister, union

Published 11 March, 2021


Buckie Got It, St. Kitts and Nevis News Source

Article by
Anesta Henry

Workers of Preconco Limited withdrew their labour today after eight shop stewards were suspended until further notice, reportedly for attending a meeting with Minister of Labour Colin Jordan and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU).

And outside the headquarters of the Lears Quarry, St Michael company this afternoon, Deputy General Secretary of the BWU Dwaine Paul accused the company of attempting to destroy and attack trade unionism in Barbados and putting workers back in the dark ages.

Paul explained that Preconco and the BWU were invited to attend an 11 a.m. Zoom meeting with Minister Jordan today to address disputes at the company and to avoid a work stoppage.

He said Preconco’s management was informed on Tuesday that all shop stewards were needed to attend the meeting because of the critical nature of the pressing issues to be discussed, including the company cutting workers’ wages without their consent since 2020 and workers being forced to pay for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

However, Paul said the company insisted that in order for all the delegates to attend the meeting, it must be held at 4 p.m. instead of the scheduled 11 a.m.

“The delegates came to management this morning and said that they need to go to the meeting and the management allowed them to go ahead. Nobody didn’t tell them they couldn’t go. They were asking them to pick four [delegates], claiming that there is an agreement with the union to pick four. The union has no such agreement with them.

“Anybody that has been around trade unions long enough knows the union would never agree to such a condition. We have from time-to-time adjusted our delegation numbers because of operational matters. But nobody says to us how that is supposed to be done.

“But here, they want to dictate how that is to be done. They want to insist that we do four people. And it is not a matter of work you know, because the delegates went to the meeting, the company didn’t shut down and it operated all morning. But it is about trying to dictate to labour what labour must do,” he said.

The Deputy General Secretary also accused the company of insulting the labour minister by refusing to participate in this morning’s meeting because more than four delegates attended.

“They say it must be four, we say it can’t be four and they decide them ain’t coming to the meeting. Mind you, the minister said the meeting must go on. So, the union met with the minister. When the delegates returned to this compound, they received two-page letters typed today sending them home on suspension pending investigation and disciplinary action,” Paul explained.

The letter dated March 10 which was delivered by hand, confirmed that the employees have been suspended from work until further notice pending an investigation into an allegation of misconduct against them. The correspondence stated that the company reserved the right to change or add to the allegations against the employees, as appropriate, in the light of the investigation.

But, Paul was adamant that Preconco cannot be allowed to continue to victimize shop stewards, cut the workers’ pay, treat them as though they were the concrete slabs being manufactured at the company.

Paul said the workers were tired of the treatment being meted out to them, and they hold the view that the issues affecting them cannot be allowed to continue.

“PPE is something that is supposed to be distributed to workers. Preconco in here selling their workers’ PPE. When you want a pair of construction boots, you go to the storeroom and let them take out your pay when the week comes. This is happening in Barbados. And don’t care how you talk, the people refuse to stop. So these guys have had enough and I applaud them for being patient so long.

“One thing that one should know about Preconco and its subsidiaries, it has produced a lot of rich men in Barbados and none of them ain’t out here. And whilst they were getting rich and building their empire, these men here were providing the funds to do it and they have continued to suffer.

“There has not been a pay increase in Preconco for more than ten years, but they paid their supervisors and managers bonus last year, but still claiming that they have no work. You don’t have any work but you hiring staff every day to keep up with capacity. But when the workers want what is theirs you are saying you got to wait on me,” Paul said.

The BWU senior official said he understood from the Chief Labour Officer that there was a scheduled meeting between minister Jordan and the company tomorrow.

However, Paul warned that while that meeting must go ahead, the union would not turn away from its word that until the letters issued to the workers today are rescinded and a commitment to discuss the pressing issues made, all employees will stay off the job.

“And I am prepared to go to the General Secretary [Toni Moore] and ask that they be supported. COVID cannot be a time in Barbados to unfair workers and we keep saying that and people keep saying not but here is an example of it. Who wants to see will see, and who don’t want to see will not see, but this union will not be quiet on these matters. So we off the job until further notice”.

Preconco’s General Manager Joshua Harvey Read who issued a statement this evening said Preconco Limited has an expressed agreement with the BWU relating to the attendance of a certain number of delegates at meetings, which was reached under the chairmanship of the Labour Department.

He said the BWU breached the agreement in respect of the meeting scheduled for this morning, while Preconco indicated to the union that it could meet another day at a different time if all delegates were required to attend.

Read added that the delegates were advised that if they left work without authorization disciplinary action would be taken.

The company said the BWU incited the delegates to breach the terms of their employment contracts in instructing them to leave work without authorization and contrary to the agreement between the BWU and Preconco.

“All delegates from the factory that left to attend the meeting have been suspended with full pay pending an investigation. The BWU attended the factory with media this afternoon and wrongly claimed that the delegates had been sent home, and sought to incite our workers based on this misinformation. Preconco refutes any wrongdoing and will continue to carry out all obligations in accordance with all agreements and labour laws of Barbados,” Read said.
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