Workers intimidated from joining unions

POSTED: 09/16/13 12:03 PM

St. Maarten – Many workers on St. Maarten are fearful and cower at suggestions that they are free to become involved in industrial relations. That’s the assessment of trade unionist Claire Elshot, who while speaking at the Windward Islands Chamber of Labor Unions (WICLU) weekly press conference, spoke on the challenges sections of the labor force face in joining unions.

“The fear drives them that they cannot even carry a complaint to the Labor Department because they believe they will lose their jobs. There are workers out there that are interested in becoming unionized but because of the process leading up to joining a union, this also brings fear,” Elshot who is the first vice-president of WICLU told the media.

She singled out employees of security companies whom, she claimed, are often hindered from joining unions through intimidation and threats.

“There are a number of security companies who do this. In the workforce, many people are being intimidated. The tactics that are also being used are costly, so workers prefer to sit quietly and make sure that they can have a job. Some of them have a job and then complain of 2 and 3 months working without receiving a salary. That is a little long for payment, because up to 15 days into the next month, is acceptable, but anything longer than that has to be denounced,” Elshot explained.

For a union to represent workers at any particular company, 50 percent of the workers within that company and one other staff member must agree to this in a referendum. This gives the union the power to negotiate collective labor agreements on behalf of employees, provide positive representation and also settle disputes.

“Just like how the Department of Labor has now structured the area of the unemployment registration that they would also be able to work on developing an area where workers can make complaints without being jeopardized,” Elshot added.

She suggested that if there is an issue affecting the majority of workers, then one person can anonymously make the complaint on behalf of the group and then the Labor Department can conduct research with the intention of coming to the aid of the employees to expose the bad practices of companies.

Elshot said that within the Tripartite Committee that advises the Minister of Labor, there has been some talk about a number of labor related issues, but there are still some companies who are bordering on the infringement of workers’ rights.

Good employers make workers happy and also helps develop the company. Elshot said that some persons who have taken interest in building companies have been at certain establishments for more than 25 years. This, she believes, can only be as a result of their love for the company and the good treatment they receive at the hands of their workers.

She denounced the use of short term contracts which she said is having a very negative effect on the country and the development of the island’s human resource capacity.


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