100 Employees Stop Work Over Agreement Delay.
THE nearly three-week-old impasse at the Water & Sewerage Company Inc. (WASCO) entered a new phase yesterday as company officials met with National Workers Union (NWU) representatives while more than 100 daily-paid employees continued to down their tools.
Fred Alcindor, WASCO employee and shop steward representing daily-paid workers, told The VOICE yesterday that employees were “not really striking”. However, he admitted that the employees were not satisfied with the manner in which negotiations were developing back in October.
Alcindor said the employees had been given a guarantee by Managing Director, Vincent Hippolyte, that by last month-end negotiations would have been completed for the triennium.
“Every triennium, we have negotiations to deal with things like salary increase, increments and possibly promotions,” Alcindor explained. “After the last meeting we had three weeks before last month-end, we hadn’t gotten a reply from management or the negotiating team. So the workers decided that if November starts and they didn’t hear anything from management, they would down their tools so they could get management’s attention.”
Alcindor said the aggrieved employees reported to work on November 2 albeit not performing their respective duties. He said management came with a counter proposal later that day that did not address the negotiations. Instead, he said, management gave an overall plan for the company’s viability, which did not appease the employees.
Alcindor added that the workers’ trade union, the National Workers Union, intervened shortly thereafter, engaging with WASCO’s management to resolve the outstanding issues. The Minister for Labour also intervened, he said, suggesting that the parties meet to settle their differences.
When The VOICE spoke to Alcindor around noon yesterday, union representatives and WASCO management were engaged in another round of talks in an attempt to bring the matter to a close. Close to fifty company vehicles usually used by the aggrieved employees were parked in the company’s compound at L’Anse Road. Like company officials, Alcindor was hoping for some closure.
“We’re trying to put an end to it. Hopefully, we will come out with something positive by this afternoon. If not, we may have to continue our sit-down come Monday.”
Alcindor, who works in the water company’s Design and Construction Department, which is responsible for the maintenance and repairs of pipelines, said over 100 employees from the company’s Castries, Vieux Fort, and Soufriere have currently downed their tools. The shop steward said that while the employees’ actions might result in some level of discomfort for some WASCO customers, the action needed to be taken.
“We really don’t want to impede on Saint Lucians having a supply of water. But, hopefully, we’re trying to see how best we can resolve this situation to keep the system going.”
When asked whether there were any signs of a bright light at yesterday’s round of talks, Alcindor said there was.
“It looks like a positive sign because they’ve given us their proposal but we were not satisfied with it. We gave them our side as well, and they went to deliberate on it.”
Alcindor told The VOICE late yesterday afternoon that the negotiations will resume on Monday, following a request by management to adjourn the proceedings.
At a press conference last week Thursday, Hippolyte said WASCO officials were at the time meeting with NWU representatives “to discuss the issues with a view of trying to resolve the matters that are on the table that have caused the industrial action.”
Hippolyte said WASCO had put measures in place to respond to issues that may come up in its distribution system. He added that while WASCO was not functioning at its optimum due to the employees’ course of action, the hope was that the matter would be resolved soon so that the company returned to its normal operations.
The VOICE attempted to contact Hippolyte yesterday for an update on the matter. However, a company official said he was unavailable since he was committed to a number of meetings that day.