Sunday, Aug 18, 2019
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The role of union leaders in the workplace

Whether it is persistent blackout or failing air-conditioning units at Princess Margaret Hospital there always appears to be one group that demands they be excused blame or responsibility – that is the leadership of labor unions.

Lights go out and air-conditioners stop cooling because a politician failed to do something or members of the board did something else. Any suggestion of incompetence on the part of those responsible for the day-to-day operation of machinery must be laid to rest at the feet of management.

Most recently a suggestion that sabotage may have played a role in the failings of fairly new air-conditioning condensers at Princess Margaret Hospital brought a furious response from the president of the Public Services Union, who threatened legal action “should workers again be falsely accused of tampering with the system”.

And he alleged the suggestion of sabotage was a “cover-up” as the units should have been replaced years ago.

We’ve heard this charge about “old units” that ought to have been replaced before; frequently in connection with generators at BPL/BEC though in that case we are reliably informed that similar aged generators, of the same make and size, in another CARICOM country remain in service and performing just fine.

We find all of this a little curious.

We understand that organized labor represents the interest of its membership. In today’s Bahamas the majority of union membership is found in the hotel sector, public utilities, the public service and transportation though in recent years organized labor has also extended into some aspects of the banking sector.

Labor unions have played an important, indeed essential role in the development of the modern Bahamas.

Particularly before the enactment of modern labor and health and welfare in the work place legislation, organized labor was often the only means through which line staff could have grievances attended to or conditions of service improved.

And unions have rightly been in the forefront of making demands that their membership receive the appropriate and continuing training associated with the introduction of new technologies.

Following upon negotiation with management in the public and private sectors and the enactment of modern labor laws establishing minimum conditions of employment inclusive of minimum wages, vacation, holiday, sick, maternity, paternity and family leave entitlement, and the establishment of overtime pay and the 40-hour work week, unions have increasingly focused their attention on increases in wages.

Sometimes lost in the effort of seeking higher wages and other entitlements, is the reality that these may contribute to a reduction in the number of jobs.

We are aware that some labor leaders are quick to complain about unsafe work environments even when those environments are created by employees. Unkempt and disorganized work spaces contribute to industrial accidents, and so do machinery failures because of slipshod maintenance work by those engaged to maintain equipment.

For their part, unions should ensure their members know the safety regulations that apply to their jobs; help to promote and maintain safety standards; follow instructions on health and safety matters; attend relevant health and safety training; report hazards and defects observed in the workplace; report to work in accordance with established departmental work hours or the hours set when flexi-time is observed; and respect the rights and property of others including that of the employer.

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