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BIGWU Responds to Allegations of Representation in Sexual Harassment Case

posted 30 Apr 2019, 10:42 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 30 Apr 2019, 10:43 ]

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The Banking Insurance and General Workers Union wishes to publicly record its strongest protest against the utterly wicked unjustified attack launched against our Union in particular and Trade Unions in general in an article in the Sunday Guardian on 21st April, 2019 (Page B14). 

The central theme of the article article “Nusrat and us” was the constant attack on trade unions as being archaic and irresponsible, including on the subject of sexual and other forms of workplace harassment, completely ignoring that it is the trade union movement that has led and continues to lead the fight against same. 

The article stated inter-alia: “For instance, in the case mentioned by Ms Thompson-Ahye, the banking union BIGWU challenged the firing of a man found guilty of sexual harassment by arguing it was a harsh decision by Republic Bank… If they continue to behave like BIGWU did in the Republic Bank case, they risk siding with the perpetrators at the expense of the victims. Just imagine for a moment how the women involved in the Republic Bank case felt when their own union openly argued in court that the perpetrator, not them, was the one treated harshly because he was fired. In today’s world, no union can be forgiven for defending that line.”

Firstly, we want to state emphatically that all accused workers are entitled to due process and are also entitled to appeal against the severity of their sentence. We must emphasise the Union's representative role to ensure that good and proper Industrial Relations is observed even where the Union may agree that the evidence supports that a worker is guilty of an infraction.

It is appalling to note that the writer makes reference to a case that is more than two decades old and then proceeds to infer that the positions held in that case is the positions of all Unions today.

For the record it should be stated that the 1996 case referred to was the then Bank Employees Union (BEU) vs Republic Bank. BIGWU was not the Union involved. BIGWU WAS NOT EVEN FORMED THEN. The name of the Union that represented the worker was Bank Employees Union (BEU) which was one of the heritage Unions of the now Banking, Insurance and General Workers Union (BIGWU).

BEU was fulfilling its mandate and oath of representation to a dismissed worker and nowhere in its representation was there a “defence” of the worker’s actions where the allegations were proven. Instead the position of the Union was that even if there was wrongdoing, given his length of service and seniority the Bank should have taken this into account in the application of a penalty. 

In other words, if he was guilty, a penalty other than dismissal should have been applied. Every worker has the right to be heard in mitigation as was the case of Cain in the Bible.

It is unfortunate that both the writer and Senator Hazel Thompson-Ahye have to paint Unions as implicitly defending the perpetrators of sexual harassment when this is far removed from the reality of what really happens.

In fact, this Union is currently representing a worker against her employer for allegedly dismissing her under the guise of restructuring because she reported her supervisor for sexually harassing her.

It is little wonder that no mention is made of this case. No mention is also made of the number of Collective Agreements where our Union and others have ensured that there are clauses to deal with sexual harassment. All of this is because the intention of the article was to demean and diminish the Union by presenting the RBL case as one in which the Union sought to support an act of workplace harassment rather than to fulfil its representative role.

While the writer makes reference to Unions, little or no mention is made of high priced Attorneys (some of them senior counsel) who defend Executive management officials like Rolph Balgobin in the recent Angostura matter. Where was the Chamber of Commerce and the ECA then? Did they openly voice their concerns?

It should be noted that in that matter the SWWTU, supported by several other Unions, led several picket demonstrations to get the company to act against sexual harassment.

We also note with serious concern the statement attributed to Ms. Sabina Gomez, the Chief Labour Relations Officer at the Ministry of Labour which was carried in the Trinidad Guardian on 12th April, 2019 as she outlined aspects of the Labour Ministry’s policy on sexual harassment before a Parliamentary Oversight Committee. The newspaper report stated inter-alia:

“Gomez said work­ers cur­rent­ly don't need a union to rep­re­sent them and could ap­proach the Min­istry. They are ad­vised to write the em­ploy­er about the is­sue and the Min­istry would fol­low up.”

Not having heard any rebuttal of this statement, we are left to strongly denounce any such approach as advocated. We state without hesitation that sexual harassment is a workplace issue. Workers formed trade unions to represent them and we openly call on workers who need representation on these and other issues to join a union to represent them in such matters.

Finally, it would be remiss of us if we did not point out that this latest attack against our Union in particular and the Trade union movement in general in the column titled “INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS” is part and parcel of the vicious assault launched by the 1% against non-unionised and unionised workers and their trade unions. We call on all working people to reject their weekly Sunday verbal garbage and close ranks against them.