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NCTUB general secretary hits back at chamber chief over ‘attack on labor’

Senior Business Reporter

Published: Feb 16, 2017

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General Secretary of the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas (NCTUB) Zane Lightbourne yesterday accused Edison Sumner, chief executive officer of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation (BCCEC), of launching an “attack on labor”, when he suggested that stricter laws should be enacted that would cause insolvent unions to be shut down.

Responding to an article in The Tribune in which Sumner made the suggestion, Lightbourne hit back, saying bankruptcy law and the Industrial Relations Act exist to protect unions from such action.

Lightbourne also suggested that Sumner’s comments go against the principles of the Caribbean Employers Confederation and against his position within the chamber.

“While it is understandable that Mr. Edison Sumner, who represents employers, would love to live in a world free of unions, it is very disappointing to hear him suggest stricter laws to help get rid of unions,” said Lightbourne.

“The Industrial Relations Act already speaks to how unions are to be dissolved, and this alone is sufficient. Section 19 states: ‘The constitution of every trade union which is registered under this act shall provide for the manner of its dissolution, and notice of every dissolution, signed by every person who was an officer or a member of the executive committee or other governing body of the union at the time of its dissolution, shall be sent within 14 days of the date of such dissolution to the registrar, and shall be registered by him’.

“The members of unions cause their existence, and therefore only the membership of unions should be able to cause their dissolution. Besides this fact, unions’ constitutions already have obligations enshrined in their framework to register yearly audits with the Department of Labour.”

Sumner suggested in the article, which quotes a letter he wrote to the director of the Department of Labour, that unions that fail to submit their audits should also have their registration taken away from them.

But Lightbourne explained that unions are already subject to penalties for failure to follow the law and suggested that, had the chamber held any objections to the proposed amendments to the Industrial Relations Act and Employment Act, “those objections should have been discussed at the National Tripartite Council level before this point”.

“Further proposals only seek to hinder the progress of those amendments already put forth by the Department of Labour, where workers are exposed to unfair terminations because of loopholes in our laws,” he said.

“The Department of Labour’s proposal is to close these loopholes to protect workers. The suggestion of getting rid of unions is a suggestion of leaving certain groups even more exposed to layoffs, ill treatment and stifled compensation.”

Lightbourne in his statement reminded Sumner that unions were developed for the protection of workers’ rights, through collective bargaining, to increase benefits and wages and to outline the terms and conditions of employment.

“Unions survive from dues contributions, which become the duty of elected officers to manage properly,” he said. “In recognition of this, it has become a legal requirement to account for the effective management of all collected funds.”

Lightbourne added: “Mr. Sumner and the chamber of commerce have no business dabbling into the internal affairs of the unions.

“It is expected that as an economist, with a mandate to enhance sustainability and job creation, the chamber should seek to offer financial advice to assist struggling unions to recover from insolvency instead of finding ways to get rid of them.”

Lightbourne said Sumner’s suggestions can only be viewed as an attack on labor, given that bankruptcy laws exist to prevent organizations from being wound up.

“If there is to be any further relationship with the Chamber of Commerce there must be a commitment of mutual respect of boundaries,” he said. “We shouldn’t get in the internal affairs of the chamber, and they should have no business in ours.”


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