ABS staff return to work

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Protesting workers at the state-owned Antigua and Barbuda Broadcasting Service (ABS) Radio and Television returned to work Tuesday afternoon “in good faith” following talks with Labour Minister Steadroy Benjamin and a subsequent meeting with their bargaining agent, the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU).

This is despite earlier indications from Shop Steward Kerrio Adams that the main objective for some members of staff was not met, which is to see the back of the station’s General Manager Erna-Mae Brathwaite.

Earlier on Tuesday, Adams told our newsroom that most of the workers left the meeting rather disappointed.

“The majority of the staff who are striking are advocating for the removal of the GM and they were hoping that would have happened today [Tuesday]. The Labour Minister is preaching unity, indicating that we all can come together and work regardless of our differences.”

The second round of industrial action, which began last Thursday, was sparked by letters from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, indicating that individuals who participated in a strike in December 2018 will not be paid for that period (roughly one week) of work stoppage.

Adams said the issuance of those letters was deemed unlawful by the Labour Minister. However, no immediate decision was made on whether or not the letters will be withdrawn.

While some staffers did not get the outcome they were looking for, it was not all doom and gloom. The parties were able to agree that staff employed to work along with the Connect Antigua and Barbuda Initiative (CABI) should be paid outstanding monies owed to them, and that the management of the company would consult with staff before changes are made to their schedules.

“The minister said the workers deserve to receive their money and he committed to taking the issue before the Cabinet on Wednesday so that a payment plan could be worked out,” Adams said.

Meanwhile, the Labour Department has issued its long-awaited conciliation report, along with its recommendations, in the ongoing stalemate between staff and the management of ABS Radio and Television.

The 12-page document was released on Tuesday and is based on meetings held in December and January between the company’s management, the workers and their bargaining agent, the AT&LU.

According to the report, the workers of ABS and CABI took industrial action to highlight their frustration with several issues surrounding their work and the workplace.

The matters include nonpayment of overtime and holidays; refusal of the Permanent Secretary to meet with the union and staff; use of unsafe vehicles to transport staff; conditions of the building; sidelining of staff; favoritism to some members of staff; and denial of emergency leave.

The problems also surrounded the lack of adequate equipment, salary increases, wardrobe allowances, and several other matters.

Regarding overtime pay and holiday work, Deputy Labour Commissioner Pascal Kentish recommended that overtime payments should not remain outstanding for extended periods, such as a year or more.

He also noted that if employees are required to work overtime on a consistent basis, it may be advisable to pay a duty allowance instead.

Kentish also pointed out that according to section C 14 (1) of the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Code, an employee is not obligated to work on a public holiday except in an emergency and it therefore means that if an employee chooses not to work on a public holiday, he ought not to suffer any repercussions.

As it relates to the allegations of the Permanent Secretary’s refusal to meet with the union and staff, Kentish said while he appreciates the challenges that the Permanent Secretary may have encountered with her office, it is always wise to keep in contact with the sole bargaining agent of the employees.

“This would assist in quelling any disturbance that may be brewing at the workplace. The Permanent Secretary is therefore encouraged to respond in writing to the union to avoid the claim that she seems not to care about the plight of the workers,” Kentish wrote.

The Deputy Labour Commissioner also advised that immediate steps should be taken to resolve water problems at the station which pose a serious threat to the safety of the staff.

With respect to the suspicion that there may be a problem of mold infestation in the building, the Labour Department officials recommended that immediate steps should be taken to have an assessment done to verify whether mold is present.

“The services of Dr. Linroy Christian or some other qualified person or entity should be engaged to have this done. If it is discovered that there was any semblance of mold, the staff must be removed from the environment and remedial work conducted instantly,” the Deputy Labour Commissioner stated in his report.

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