Drip, drip, drip! It’s like Chinese water torture – the almost daily diet of disturbing news on the industrial front here in our fair state. Seems the various government and statutory departments, agencies, bodies, what have you, are finding it difficult to get a handle on the various issues that are making for some very unhappy workers. Hark the voices of protest!
A little over a week ago, it was the workers at the V. C. Bird International Airport, who walked off their posts in solidarity with Antigua and Barbuda Airport Authority (ABAA) CEO, Stanley Smith, who had been suspended. Smith, disagreeing with the reasons for his suspension, quickly resigned. He is reportedly taking legal action against the ABAA Board. Of course, a few days before that, those self-same workers took action to protest a delay in the forwarding of a privately–undertaken compensation report to their bargaining agent, the Antigua Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU). Seems those ABBA workers will not be trifled with. Neither will the Burma Quarry workers who have been raising hell and taking action intermittently for over a year on such matters as overtime pay, poor working conditions and the (punitive?) decision to transfer one of their senior managers.
Last week, prison officers at Her Majesty’s Prison (HMP) took industrial action to protest the horrendous conditions under which they are being forced to work. A few weeks before that, the Antigua Barbuda Broadcasting Service staff (ABS) took action to voice their displeasure with deplorable working conditions and issues concerning senior management. On or before the ABS action, there was a long-running protest at Clarevue, the nation’s lone psychiatric facility, about . . . yes, you guessed it, horrible working conditions. And the Clarevue action followed closely on the heels of the Fiennes Institute action over . . . (sigh), dastardly working conditions.
Not surprisingly, just when our A-Level students at the Antigua State College (ASC) were preparing to sit their exams, the long-suffering staff staged a protest action to draw attention to the dreadful conditions under which they were being forced to impart knowledge. Nee less to say, our students suffered much harm. At around Christmas-time last year, when residents were in the holiday business of sending and receiving special packages, the workers at the General Post Office (GPO) walked off the job to protest, well, disgusting and hazardous working conditions at the St. John’s office.
And so it went, in the weeks and months leading up to yesterday’s action by the Central Board of Health (CBH) workers, who walked off the job to protest unresolved money issues and downright dangerous working conditions. Good grief! Seems, workers here in our fair state, especially those in the public sector, go to their jobs under ‘pain and peril of death.’ Working in one of the aforementioned government bodies is ‘a clear and present danger,’ ‘a threat to life and limb!’ Lord have mercy! Look, from Customs, to the Port Authority, to the St. John’s Development Corporation, to the vendors, to the construction folks building the “five hundred homes in the endless number of days,” workers are, and have been disgruntled, and they have made their righteous indignation over remuneration, or management or distressful working conditions known. It is pellucid that “All’s not well on the industrial front!”
Of course, we here at NEWSCO stand squarely in the corner of the unhappy CBH workers, and notwithstanding the pledge by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, to speed- up the disbursement of over- time and back-pay monies, we support the vow by Wigley George, the president of the Antigua and Barbuda Trades and Labor Union, to strike again in June if the CBH authorities renege on their promise. Seems, the good Wigley George has no confidence in the breezy, mealy-mouthed promises coming from officialdom. He has seen many-a-broken promise in his day. So have we in recent times. (See Fiennes, before they finally relocated to the Nurses’ Hostel. See also, Clarevue, ABS and the GPO).
Meanwhile, whatever happened to the Biblical principle that, “The workman is worthy of his hire?” [Luke 10:7] Alas, we fear that it is tram- pled underfoot by those who should know better – a government with its roots in (gasp!) the struggle against the planter class for better wages and improved work- ing conditions for workers. ”Labor disgraces no man; unfortunately you find men who dis- grace labor!” [US President Ulysses S. Grant] Of course, we trust that all the issues involving workers here in Antigua and Barbuda will be quickly resolved in the favor of the workers. But we are not holding our breath. Neither are many of our fellow citizens. With the way things are going, it’s any one’s guess where a strike will break out next week – Treasury? Teachers? Litter Wardens? Crossing Guards? We shake our heads, and of course we’re keeping the thesaurus handy to find adjectives, other than those already used in this text (see bold-face words), to describe the . . . er . . . disagreeable conditions under which our brothers and sisters labor in this blessed land. Yes, we used a different word to de- scribe the outrage. After all, this could get monotonous, the same old refrain. A strike nearly every week is quite tiresome.