Workers Defend Right To Livelihood

Employees of Ready-Mix Ltd will spend the Christmas season with a bitter taste in their mouths, after being laid-off abruptly and subsequently locked out of their place of employment while attempting to collect the documents necessary to file for their unemployment benefits.

The surprise actions have also raised suspicions among workers about the breakdown of ongoing salary negotiations between management and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU).

President of the union’s Ready-Mix division Andre Sealy explained that the 61-member staff is usually laid off annually around December 18th until early January. This year however they were shocked to receive notification as they were leaving on Wednesday of the company’s intention to lay them off from Thursday, December 3rd.

“They laid us off without any notice. They just gave it to us in the evening, in the blink of an eye, and trust me, the men don’t feel good,” Sealy explained.

In the correspondence, General Manager Graham Proverb told staff that the company had “no alternative” given the “current circumstances at this time”.

Their shock then turned to anger when they found a locked gate at the Lear’s, St. Michael compound around 7 a.m. as they arrived to collect their National Insurance Scheme (NIS) “green paper”. Security officials, reportedly acting on the instructions of management informed employees that they would not be allowed to enter.

Simultaneously, approximately 12 workers who had arrived around 6 a.m. were locked inside, and in response, scores of angry workers outside, drove their vehicles up to the gate blocking all exit and entry.

“The men got angry and they drove up to the gate and parked by the gate. So nobody could get in or out until the union came and spoke to us,” the union president further explained.

During a brief interview in the afternoon, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore declined to comment on the matter.

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Barbados TODAY later learned that some employees have not had a raise of pay for almost ten years, and this was among matters being discussed. In fact, the union president suggested that a recent breakdown in negotiations might have been responsible for the company’s behaviour.

“Right now, negotiations are going on in terms of salary increases and those negotiations broke down between the union and the management, so all of this is a part of it,” he said.

Efforts to reach the general manager were unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, outspoken employee Michael John explained that workers were concerned about the wording of the letter informing staff of the layoff as well as the abrupt manner in which the information was relayed.

“For the five years that I have been there, they would say that they are shutting on the 18th and you would come to work to receive your green papers, because that is the last day of work. If they changed the date to the 3rd shouldn’t the same procedure stand?” asked John.

“Why, after they told us after 3 o’clock yesterday that the company is closing on the 3rd, then today when you have come to collect the documents, you can’t enter the premises? Why wasn’t my green paper attached to it as well? Once the green paper was attached to the card yesterday, then I would have known definitely that yesterday was the last day,” he continued.

The impasse continued until around 11 and according to the frustrated employee, the general manager did not come out to address them.

“He sent the sales manager Andrew Lewis to ask us to move our vehicles from blocking the gate… He did not come to say a word, so we waited patiently until the union representatives showed up to give us a better understanding of what is going on. From my understanding, they spoke with management so that the guys can get their green papers, and then we dispersed as necessary,” he added.   

The 61-member staff complement comprises mechanics, forklift drivers, and truck drivers, and up until Wednesday, the concrete-making company was said to be working on numerous projects including at a branch of Chefette Restaurants, Sam Lord’s Castle and others.

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