Prime Minister’s Attack on Port Workers is a Distraction from Failures at the Port
St John’s, Antigua – 11 July 2023 – On Saturday 8th June 2023, the Prime Minister, on Pointe FM launched an unprovoked attack on employees at the Antigua Port Authority and the West Indies Oil Company. He accused the Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union —Bargaining Agent for these two groups of workers — of pressuring the Government and its agencies with unreasonable demands for salaries and wages. He further asserted that the Union’s ultimate goal is to see the Government fail.
Prime Minister Browne went on to state as if it is fact, that longshoremen make $160,000 annually. This is far from the truth! Not one longshoreman earns that amount in a year. More so, the Prime Minister is outrightly lying to the public. We wish to advise the Prime Minister and inform the country that the question of overtime and royalties are not paid by the Port nor the Government; they are charged to and paid by the vessel or its agent. The Prime Minister was misled as to this fact.
We further wish to advise the Prime Minister that the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union is the Union of choice in this country, owing to its vision for progress and its exemplary service to its membership for over 56 years. As such, it should have been no surprise to him that workers at WIOC voted overwhelmingly for the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union to assume bargaining rights during a recent ballot.
The question we would ask the Prime Minister — and would wish for him to advise the nation on
— is whether his recent comments have anything to do with the Exim Bank’s demand for the Port to meet its obligations on its loan payment to the Bank. Was the Government served with a demand notice in the recent meeting with the Exim Bank because of its inability to meet its loan payment?
On the issue of wages, the Prime Minister must understand the inherent value of these jobs at the Port. Many of the jobs have been in existence long before he became Prime Minister and will remain long after he leaves the office of Prime Minister. The risks involved in these jobs and with the watchful eyes of the Union, over the years, have brought great benefits to the individuals who perform these tasks.
The Union has been supportive of the Port’s redevelopment initiative. We have amended our collective agreement to allow for the Port to be able to deliver goods to customers within a reasonable time by facilitating three shifts and extending the work week. However, the port
continues to operate up until 4:00 pm because of the Government’s inability to modernize the operation of the Port by paying the Customs and Excise department overtime for working beyond 3:30pm, therefore extending the operation.
In which modern society will you find a port closing at 3:30 PM every day — even on weekends? The Prime Minister should be focused on expanding the operating hours by resolving the issues with the Customs department, rather than picking a fight with us who are performing and producing — a fight he cannot win!
This is not the first time he has gone on record for threatening the Port workers. We call on him now to cease and desist from his unwarranted attacks. The workers at the Port kept this country afloat during the pandemic. They are essential workers and not labourers. They are skilled operators and qualified tally clerks who work hard.
The attitude of the Prime Minister in his condescending remarks seems to suggest that Port workers are ignorant unskilled laborers who earn above their ability. This is far from the truth! We wish to remind him that these workers voted in the last election and will vote in future elections.
We also wish to remind the Prime Minister that striking is our weapon of last resort. It’s a fundamental right that we have in the pursuit of justice, and that right will never be denied to us. So, if we must use it, WE WILL at any time against any employer, even Government. We do not care which Political Party is in control of the Government. We put you on notice that you will not ever be allowed to take away our right to strike.
The Prime Minister’s constant attack on organized Labour is much cause for concern. We have sent the clip of his attack to the International Transport Workers Federation and they have expressed concern over his insulting remarks towards workers and their representative.
We at the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union, therefore, condemn these vulgar remarks and consider them a distraction from the real issue of the Government’s inability to meet its payment to the Exim Bank. We further caution the Prime Minister from idly threatening the jobs of ordinary working-class people.
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