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By Latrishka Thomas

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In addition to the many things that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected, one of the country’s oldest unions, the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU), has reported that the pandemic forced them to change the way it conducts negotiations.

“This pandemic has disrupted every aspect of life, and particularly in the world of work and business. The past 12 months has presented the Antigua Trade and Labour Union with uncertainties, requiring the institution to be more adaptive in its approach to the dynamic challenges accompanying these unprecedented and unpredictable times,” General Secretary of the AT&LU, Hugh Joseph said yesterday as the country marked its 70th anniversary of Labour Day.

“The union had to be judicious in its decision making, with the aim of achieving the best and sustainable results for the nation, its economy, the health and safety of all the rights and responsibilities of employees and employers alike,” he explained.

Nevertheless, Joseph said that “as a guardian of democracy”, the 75-year-old AT&LU always put the workers first.

“Our involvement in these social dialogues ensures that workers’ rights are never quarantined or become subject to curfews or any other condition emanating from this pandemic,” he indicated.

He also disclosed that even within the North Street office, “we have agreed to the temporary suspension of certain benefits in favour of guaranteed salaries and wages.

“We have adopted a system of days on, days off and working remotely over the last year,” he added.

Meanwhile, Joseph shared that the AT&LU has recorded a slight, though steady increase in membership … as employees actively seek the protection of unions, the absence of which would leave them vulnerable to … the will of unconscionable employers who would, without consulting them, seek to alter the employment agreement”.

For example, those “unscrupulous” employers who have tried to “[reduce] the rate of pay, the hours of work, the number of days worked or combination of any of these, represents a fundamental breach which goes to the root of the employment contract”, he said during the union’s virtual address to the nation on Monday.

On the other hand, Joseph applauded the few understanding employers who “appreciate the risk that employees are exposed to and who have demonstrated true solidarity with workers by continuing to provide support to their employers, to their employees as far as possible, to include the provision of full salaries and wages even when the pandemic forced a downturn in business”.

Labour Day is observed annually in the twin island and other countries on the first Monday in May.