By Kadeem Joseph
The Deputy General Secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) has made a strident call for the government to enact legislation to protect workers from exploitation.
“We need legislation; severance legislation, unemployment legislation, to protect us from exploitation,” Chester Hughes said during the union’s Labour Day ceremony on Monday morning.
He said workers are facing challenges that they have never seen or experienced before in the workplace, adding that the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has been used as an excuse for businesses to mistreat employees.
“Today, in Antigua and Barbuda, even as the pandemic is devastating the workplace, we have employers who are still piling on the pressure on workers in those very workplaces,” he said. “Many companies are downsizing and right-sizing because they are making sure they maintain their profits, so that the masters and those who are controlling the finance and capital can continue to benefit at the highest, while workers continue to earn at the lowest,” he charged.
Hughes said that there are many workers who are still waiting to receive severance payments after being sent home in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, and highlighted former employees of Liat and the Caribbean Airport Services as examples.
He said the ABWU has been arguing, for decades, for the passage of legislation that would govern the creation of severance and unemployment funds that would be a buffer for workers.
To this end, the union executive is calling on workers in the country to agitate for change.
“We must begin to fight back,” he urged. “If we do not begin to fight back, we are going to become mentally enslaved in our workplaces as if we have no rights to survive.”
Meanwhile, the ABWU’s deputy general secretary announced that the union, represented by attorney Justin Simon QC, filed an action in the High Court, last week, that prohibits the sale of any asset owned by the Jolly Beach Corporation.
“Jolly Beach Corporation, until you pay the workers their severance, that caution will never be lifted against your properties in Antigua and Barbuda,” Hughes declared.
The former workers at the Jolly Beach Resort had given the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union the right to negotiate with the company for their full severance and other benefits. A little over 400 people were employed at the resort during its operation.