The Caswell Franklyn Column – Trade Unions Accepting Bribes/Concessions from Government
While addressing the last annual general conference of her union, the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), Toni Moore, complained about what she saw as union busting tactics being employed by Cost-U-Less. She sought to connect the granting of duty free concessions by Government as the reason why that company felt “empowered” to engage in such tactics.
To be honest, that reasoning escaped me but somehow it was sufficient to bring down the ire of the Honourable Chris Sinckler, on her. And in a nonsensical retort, while addressing his party faithful he claimed that it was logical to conclude that since Government has given the General Secretary and the BWU tax concessions on a Mercedes Benz, Ms Moore felt empowered to be bashing Government.
If that is the quality of the reasoning of the person who holds the portfolio of Minister of Finance, it is no wonder that the country is in such dire straits. The General Secretary has raised an issue that impinges on the constitutional rights of workers. Any half decent minister of the Crown would have been grateful for that information and join her in an effort to protect the dignity of the workers of this country, whom he is sworn to serve. What has made this minister so cocky that he can make light and be so disrespectful of the genuine concerns of the people whose votes he would be seeking in the upcoming elections.
Even though his behaviour is below that expected of a senior political figure, he has drawn attention to two issues, tax concessions and union busting. They are too serious to be sidestepped by the dismissive twattle of a government minister, who is more interested in providing comic relief for party members, at a branch meeting, than dealing with fundamental workers’ rights issues.
Union busting has become so pervasive, especially during this prolonged recession and the authorities have failed to adequately deal with the problem for the sake of maintaining jobs. Ms Moore has correctly stated that people are losing jobs because they have committed the cardinal sin of becoming union members.
In accordance with section 40A of the Trade Union Act, it is a crime to dismiss a worker because he has become a member of a trade union. However, in my experience, the police were not aware that it constitutes a criminal offence. Unfortunately, when such a matter is reported to police, they do not take it seriously and no action is taken against the offending employer.
In an attempt to put the General Secretary on the back foot, the minister revealed that BWU had benefited from tax concessions on a Mercedes Benz. However, in my opinion, while trying to embarrass Ms Moore, the minister effectively shot himself in the foot. He must now explain the basis for granting tax concessions on high end vehicles for the two major unions.
Before I go further, I must make it clear that I am not accusing any trade unionists of wrongdoing, by accepting charity from employers. But to me, as the Americans would say, the optics are bad.
If you were to hire a lawyer to represent you in a matter, and thereafter, discover that your representative was taking undisclosed gifts from your opponent. How would you feel? Now pray tell me, how is that different for trade unions to take undisclosed concessions/gifts from the employer, especially when the law requires disclosure.
In accordance with the Duties, Taxes and Other Payments (Exemption) Act, the Minister of Finance may, by order, exempt any person, business or undertaking from the payment of any duty, tax or other money. However, section 4 of that act provides that any such order is subject to negative resolution.
Section 41.(2) of the Interpretation Act explains, when a statutory instrument is subject to negative resolution, it must be laid in Parliament for forty days, and during that period, either house can by resolution vote to annul the instrument. Any such order must also be published in the Official Gazette.
I have made a diligent search and can find no evidence that any such order was ever published. I am therefore asking the honourable minister, when did he comply with the law, in relation to granting tax concessions on motor vehicles for the leaders of major trade unions? And if he had not done so, why the secrecy?
Champagne taste and mauby pockets have brought trade unions into disrepute.