Letters & Opinion

Once A Farce, Twice A Tragedy!

By Michael McCombie

IS the National Workers Union (NWU) providing the type of representation LUCELEC workers expect from them?

The question is asked in light of developments within the negotiating process both the union and the management of the sole electricity company are locked in.

“We are at a crucial point in the negotiations and we believe every effort should be made to close off the discussions,” noted a letter from the Union to the company dated July 25, 2017.

However, in that July 25, 2017 missive, the Union was hopeful all outstanding issues would be resolved. There were only four outstanding issues, all of which were subsequently signed off on October 3, 2017, before an ambitious two-week deadline was set aside for the signing of the draft agreement.

This did not occur. The draft agreement was then expected to be signed on November 28, 2017. This also did not take place and so it’s negotiation time again. C’estferméou pas fermé.

The Union, in a September 27, 2017 letter to the company, had expressed an end to the negotiating process after accepting the company’s offer related to a wage increase over two trienniums, a split of the medical insurance for grades 4 – 6 and other benefits.

When, by email of November 30, 2017, the opportunity to redirect the company’s attention to newly-raised issues had yet to receive acknowledgement, a November 28, 2017 deadline for an end to the negotiating process had passed. It must be noted that both parties had committed to finalising all details to facilitate the signing of the collective agreement. What’s with this inordinate amount of time at concluding negotiations?

Albeit confusing, a response letter was passed by the Union, which was dispelled by the company with clarification sought by unionised employees.

“No meeting was agreed upon between the two parties,” an email to all employees confirmed, “with feedback already provided in the form of a letter to the Union as promised”, it subsequently stated.

With the commitment given to working up to midnight if needs be, why has there been no end to negotiations? No backpay and no bonus; with $210,000 in dues paid?

In its latest missive to the company dated, January 25, 2018, the Union again officially confirms the end to negotiations while asserting that the company has reneged on certain signed clauses.

Already shown in a previous article just how creative negotiations have been, reneging has just about the ring to what was once a walk back on the part of the company on a negotiated position.

An email entitled, “Areas for which Retroactive Payments Should Apply” of October 6, 2017 would provide even more insight into how inventive the talks had been with the transitioning of two HRMs.

Imagine, just at the point of wrapping-up talks, the vehicle allowance was passed as one of the areas impacted by negotiations. Mindful, “the reworked figures if sent would stop negotiations cold.”

There was the Union commending LUCELEC in its September 27, 2017 missive on the successful end of talks, just when the “Big Bang” occurred. A helluva engineering feat, by all accounts, the scale of which was unparalleled given that the new figures of the vehicle allowance formula were now taken as the “correct values” despite reworked, not once, not twice, but three times upwards.

With the signing of the vehicle allowance on November 17, 2016, it would take November 28, 2017 (a full year) for it to re-emerge. Coming out from the cold while engendering a fresh round of talks.

The vehicle inputs were not of themselves an intended increase any more than a two-man committee meant that by meeting with the company it acceded to an increase in the allowance.

Blurring the lines still further was what the minutes reflected when at the insistence of the Union was a proviso to denote what was only discussed, something the company found unprecedented.

Minutes are to validate what was discussed, with copies of recordings to validate minutes. Minutes, if anything, are not an agreed position save only what was discussed or taken as accurately read.

At the Union’s own insistence, this was captured in the minutes of the negotiations. The commitment to an agreement would only be that of the signed clauses. Obviously, noted by the company.

Letting you in on the scoop, the Union is at its wit’s end on how best to provide guidance to the employee reps. A quantum approach to negotiations, no doubt, gaffed by a core of engineers.

Just as congratulations were in order, someone crashed a grossly inflated vehicle into the negotiations. The impact of which, among others, would occasion the intervention of a third party.

With talks now wrecked, one had better not only call the Union, short of first finding some form of solace against the Union’s own approbation of LUCELEC ending talks on a professional level.

The Union was of the view that not only did negotiations go well, but it had reached an amicable settlement with the company on all the signed clauses, without the intervention of a third party.

Just when solidifying the role of the Union and, by extension, industrial relations in the workplace by building on the just-concluded negotiations, all roads now lead to the Labour Commissioner.

If the announcement of the conclusion of negotiations at a Union’s October 20, 2017 Congress of Delegates was once a farce, by two well-documented missives it was twice a tragedy.

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