Any government which demonstrates genuine concern and commitment for the legitimate welfare of workers in this country of ours can consider itself deserving of – and will definitely get – our unequivocal support.
But the key words here are legitimacy and genuineness. The first one is – or ought to be – relatively easy to establish: an industrial claim, demand or expectation only has to be weighted against applicable laws to find out if it is worthy of being entertained. If workers are entitled to severance, gratuity, pension or whatever, then it should be a simple matter of determining what is said about this in relevant laws like our Labour Code, and/or legally binding covenants, whether in the form of individual contracts of employment or collective agreements.
There is a very well spelt out and well laid out process to be followed should any dispute or grievance in such matters arise and we need not attempt to expound or rehash them here. The employees of Scotiabank Antigua are represented by a bargaining agent, the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU), which has been neither silent, inactive or laid back when it comes to advocating and agitating for them whenever such a felt need arises.
Beyond such direct or representational engagement, there is the Office of Labour Commissioner; there are divers processes and procedures for mediation, conciliation and arbitration. We have an Industrial Court. We have a Minister for Labour whose office is a legally recognized, empowered, and indispensable component of the resolution chain.
How come all of a sudden, some vague (apparently quiet, mostly unconfirmed, certainly not publicized) alleged jitters among Scotiabank staff about whether they will be paid severance if/when Scotia changes ownership has become a matter requiring Cabinet intervention in the first instance?
We are asking, how come we have not heard about this at least from the fearless and outspoken David Massiah and the ABWU? Who or what is the Cabinet and its Chairman (given his well-known interest in this matter) trying to jump ahead of and why?
Mr. Browne why don’t you let the workers’ representative, the union, do its work and allow the process to proceed in accordance with our laws? Why this eagerness to jump the gun and make it a Cabinet (politburo?) issue that requires hasty, direct and pre-emptive intervention?
Surely our Prime Minister, smart as he is, knows that Scotia and everyone else will see right through this and dismiss or respond to it for what it is: A gangster-like roiling up of pressure on Scotiabank – in addition to the threats of ‘no vesting order’ and ‘we will compulsorily acquire’ – over the planned sale of their assets and operations to a Trinidad and Tobago conglomerate, that by all indications meets all the regulatory and other requirements to make this purchase.
Now the current play seems to be the drumming up of an accusation about Scotia violating or intending to violate the employment rights and entitlements of its workers – an allegation which, as noted earlier, appears unsupported and uncorroborated by the staff or their union.
Besides, if a company changes ownership but staff are retained and granted seamless continuity of employment on similar or better terms as under the previous ownership or management, why and how does the issue of severance and payment in lieu arise? Hasn’t this question been adjudicated many times before, such as when Rubis took over the operations of Texaco? Some workers were of the view that because ownership had changed they should be severed and paid, then rehired as matter of obligation so they could make more money, despite being granted seamless continuity of employment without any reduction in their pay or entitlements, etc. Surely we do remember which side of this controverted argument carried the day with barely a bead of sweat.
But even if the fundamentals of employment law are more complex or subtle than the attempted simplification laid out here by us, the central point is un-recoiled: Why should the Prime Minister and his Cabinet become involved in this (even commenting on it, especially at this stage, is ill-advised) instead of allowing the process, the grievance – if at all it is such – to take its methodical course?
In a previous editorial on this subject of the planned Scotiabank sale, we pointed out that maybe Prime Minister Browne will one day be lauded for pulling off a rather spectacular feat on behalf of his people, one that will benefit and uplift them tremendously. We have a way of criticizing people when we don’t believe they stand a chance of succeeding (reflect on the late V.C. Bird’s bold State acquisition of former private estate lands, or the ongoing Reparations effort) but when they do . . . aww! You know the rest.
Bold, daring and adventurous feats are just that – the people who undertake them must be prepared to push boundaries, right to the edge, and even a tad over it, now and them – it’s brinksmanship at its scariest, but sometimes its most rewarding when you manage to pull it off.
But like we also said before, even though the Prime Minister decides that he needs to lean a bit hard on Scotia and Republic to see if and how much they will yield, he need not wade into every episode like a public street challenge to (or breakout of) shirtless fisticuffs.
A divergent background which combines the hard-knocks-life of early ghetto upbringing with subsequently acquired slick and suave banking perspicacity will understandably produce quite an awesome hybridization of gangster and banker.
But the quality, expression and impact of such social grafting and its fascinating journey of achievement should ever remain suited and girded in circumspection and gentry when the bankster has gone on to become Prime Minister.