By Elesha George
Prime Minister Gaston Browne made stern remarks in Parliament on Tuesday as he chastised the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union (ABWU) for encouraging port workers to take industrial action over unpaid bonuses .
Due to the threat of suspending their services, Browne said Cabinet would discuss reinstating voluntary redundancy and would have to consider furloughing some of the port’s 250 workers.
Browne says the port only needs 80 of the 250 workers currently employed to operate effectively.
He revealed that when his government took office in 2014, it took the decision to suspend a voluntary cutback program that was being prepared by the former administration.
The Prime Minister, who said many workers were very well paid but unskilled, told parliament that “we recognize that if we were to make them redundant or allow them to voluntarily retire, many of them would not be in able to command a job with similar remuneration in the private sector or even in other areas of the public sector.So, in order to protect them for themselves, Mr President, we have literally asked the port to withdraw this package of voluntary separation that we proposed to them”.
Browne said workers should recognize that they are in a privileged position and that “there is an existing justification for firing them”.
“I think they are making a mistake because if they lose their job at the port, it is clear, Mr. President, that they cannot even command half of the amount they are currently earning,” he said. he boasted.
He said the possible layoffs could be further aggravated by the loss of jobs when the port modernization project is completed.
“We are currently investing $250 million to modernize the port; that means there will be more mechanization, even the ships that bring goods to the island now, Mr President, they are mechanized in such a way that they will eliminate a lot of the manual labour. This therefore means that there will be more redundancies and that the union has a responsibility to be honest with its workers and to inform them of the risks. The risk of losing their jobs and their vulnerability,” he explained.
The prime minister also chastised unions across the island, noting it might be time to look at the relevance of unions, and told parliament that some unionized workers could not separate politics from self-interest national.
“If they can’t provide leadership to their members and all they can do is be disruptive, they have no place in the development of this country in the 21st Century, that means they have become irrelevant, unsuitable for their purpose,” he remarked.
“We have had a serious imbalance in the system where workers believe they are the only ones who have rights, to have profits for the benefit of certain companies, even in the private sector,” Browne added.
He made a final appeal to port workers on Tuesday, asking them to reconsider their choice to take industrial action. The ABWU had given the government until December 15and pay a 3.5% bonus as stipulated in their collective agreements.