By Makeida Antonio
A meeting held yesterday between Antigua and Barbuda Broadcasting Service (ABS) employees and Labour Minister Steadroy Benjamin to settle outstanding overtime and holiday payments allegedly proved futile.
At least a dozen staff members are claiming the payments have been outstanding since 2015 and have engaged in a series of industrial action over the years.
ABS Shop Steward Kerrio Adams said another meeting has been set by the Labour Minister for April 7 to try to resolve the matter once again with all relevant parties.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t get much done. [Benjamin] set a date for Thursday to sort the entire thing out. We as staff are taking a wait and see approach.
“Again, [Benjamin] mentioned that any staff that are striking or calling in sick, he will instruct the police to arrest that individual,” Adams claimed yesterday.
Benjamin declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Observer last night.
According to the Essential Services Act (2008) which governs ABS staff among others, no industrial action shall be taken by essential workers who are engaged in a trade dispute.
Last week, the matter reached boiling point as the panel of judges overseeing the case in the Industrial Court have been asked to recuse themselves, sparking another strike by workers.
The issue of whether the judges showed impartiality in favour of the workers will be called before the High Court.
Minister of Information Melford Nicholas told Observer that ABS staff, management and officials within the ministry have been attempting to address the ongoing dispute.
“Leading into last weekend, the employees were encouraged to take industrial action which was unlawful. ABS is a part of the essential services and they cannot just engage in industrial action like that, especially as the matter is before the competent court,” he said in an interview yesterday.
The Antigua Trades and Labour Union’s (AT&LU’s) Ralph Potter has been representing the affected employees. He could not be reached for comment regarding yesterday’s meeting up to press time.
However, Nicholas refuted claims made by Potter during Observer’s Snakepit show on Saturday that Information Ministry officials were tampering with documents needed to assist in the resolution process.
The Information Minister said a thorough investigation is being conducted by ABS’ General Manager Erna-Mae Braithwaite and ministry officials to ascertain the amount of overtime pay and holiday pay owed to workers.
“All that we were seeking to find was the truth and let the records show that. I am aware that the management team including Mrs Braithwaite had spent an inordinate amount of time, both she and the Permanent Secretary, trying to present the reconciled information,” Nicholas said.
He added that there has never been a motive by the government to withhold outstanding overtime and holiday pay from ABS workers, but the monies would come from the Treasury on the basis that funds are available which affects other workers across the public sector.
“There had been certain gaps and they’ve had to rely on a number of sources including the security records of people coming and going. That really is the issue at hand and there is no ill intention and there still isn’t on behalf of the government, myself, the Ministry or the Permanent Secretary to cheat anyone out of their earnings,” Nicholas continued.
Additionally, Nicholas rebuffed the notion that the personality and management style of ABS’ top officials have negatively affected the state media’s operations. He believes that those in leadership do not have to be liked to be effective.
“We’re dealing with a change management process for a number of years and the transformation that has taken place over the years is clear and apparent for everyone to see.
“It requires strong management and if anyone studies history they will know that the hardest thing is change because those who are opposed to the change will oppose it with their every might,” he added.
Last Friday, ABS staff members and management received a letter from the Office of the Attorney General indicating that essential services workers could not arbitrarily engage in industrial action. Nicholas told Observer that there needed to be at least 14 days’ notice for such activity to occur.