The Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union is proud to be the legally recognized bargaining agent of over 6500 workers in Antigua and Barbuda. Throughout our 55 years of existence, we have built significant capacity and have positioned ourselves as a leader in the Labour Movement both locally and regionally.
Within the past year, we have negotiated thousands of dollars in benefits and wage increases for our members and secured important victories in the industrial court on behalf of workers. Notwithstanding, we are mindful of the ongoing struggles of some of our members. Many of their issues are the result of poor policies and practices by the current administration, in addition to blatant neglect and disregard for the rights and well-being of workers.
Labour Day should be a time of celebration of our achievements as workers and a demonstration of our solidarity. However, this year, we must again highlight the failure of this administration to assume the position of a responsible and reasonable partner in the world of work — hence our theme: "Workers Have Absolutely No Trust in This Government.”
It is a well-established principle that tripartism is a fundamental pillar of any successful economy. Workers along with their representatives, employers and the government must work in partnership with each other. Conversely, what we have experienced under the Gaston Browne administration is unilateral decision-making and action, in addition to an outright refusal to dialogue in some cases. The resulting state of affairs in the country is a precipitous decline in the level of trust workers once had in the governmental institution.
One classic example of this is the ongoing severance matter involving the former and current employees of LIAT 1974 Ltd. For several months, the Prime Minister has repeatedly refused to honour our Union’s invitation to discuss the matter with him. Instead, the Prime Minister has been relentless in his attempt to bully the workers into accepting a “compassionate offer” that amounts to only a fraction of their entitlements in cash and the remainder packaged in an obscure arrangement of bonds and lands. What level of trust can there be in an atmosphere of intimidation? What level of trust can there be in the absence of genuine dialogue?
To add insult to injury, the ongoing administration process of LIAT 1974 Ltd has been shrouded in secrecy. What is the desired outcome of the administration? When will it end? These are the lingering questions on the minds of the former staff. We have no doubt that we would be further along this process had the government heeded our call for dialogue.
As workers’ representatives, we are particularly sensitive to the socio-economic needs of our members. It used to be that the governmental institution also shared this concern for workers. However, under the Gaston Browne administration, the most vulnerable workers have been left to languish as the country continues to experience one of the most dramatic increases in the cost of living due to imported inflation, global conflict, and supply chain disruptions. What has the government done for vulnerable workers during this crisis? What actions have they taken to minimize the impact on workers? The limited disposable incomes many workers had is now completely eroded by the prevailing circumstances and the inaction of the government.
At a time of crisis, when workers were depending on the government to show leadership, they failed. They failed to bring together stakeholders — including the Unions — to discuss strategies for alleviating the suffering. Even if this administration wished to be credited for the marginal increase in the minimum wage, the reality is, it was too little and too late. Again, how can there be trust when workers are abandoned?
The Labour Department is another area where workers continue to experience neglect from the government. Part of the remit of this department is to resolve disputes between workers and employers. However, this department has become the bottleneck for dozens, if not hundreds of cases awaiting a hearing. It is not acceptable that in this modern age — where technologies exist to increase efficiency — that the department continues to be overwhelmed with cases. Workers have to wait months and in some cases years to have their matters heard. Again, how can there be trust when justice is unnecessarily delayed? We reiterate our call for the complete overhaul and modernisation of the Labour Department to better serve the workers of this country.
Finally, we are fully aware that some individuals have accused the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union of being a politically motivated institution. We insist that our primary interest is the well-being of workers, but we also recognise that political solutions are required to address many of the challenges workers face. Our commitment to workers extends well beyond the articles of any collective agreement; perhaps this is where we differ from other workers’ organisations. We believe in holistic and lasting solutions to workers’ problems, and we accept that this may land us in the political crossfire at times. But even in such cases, we have proved numerous times that we are more than capable of defending ourselves and our members.
As we approach another Labour Day, we admonish our members, citizens and residents to reflect on the many challenges that confront workers and to consider joining us in the streets of St John’s on May 1, as we publicly demonstrate our dissatisfaction with the treatment of workers by this administration.
On behalf of the Executive, Management and Staff of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers' Union, we wish all our members and the entire nation a happy Labour Day.