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posted 30 Aug 2014, 16:57 by Gerry Kangalee

One week ago A NON-UNIONISED worker came to the offices of the National Workers Union (NWU). He was a young man, just twenty-nine years old. He wanted to join the Union so that the Union could help him to get urgent medical attention from his employer as he was scared that very soon he could be paralyzed and unemployed.

What I heard from this young man was shocking and an indictment against employers of non-unionized workers in the country. This was not just about low wages, inferior or non- existing benefits. His issue was about cruelty to an employee and severe physical and emotional damage being inflicted by employers on workers in the course of earning a subsistence living.

This young man works for a successful company involved in the construction industry and is owned by a rich family. He is a skilled and qualified tradesman. He is married with a young wife and child and comes from a country district.

One day, not too long ago, he was charged with supervising a group of workers involved in retrofitting a large government owned multi-complex building. In the absence of safety equipment and practices consistent with the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) he was severely injured.

He reported his injury to the company who sent him to their physician. His injury required an MRI scan costing five thousand dollars which he had to pay from his own pocket as the company does not provide specialist health care just basic health services through their doctor and only to determine if a worker is really sick and so curb sick leave.

The medical report indicated severe back injury requiring major surgery. The company again sent him to their physician who is not a specialist in that field but merely a general practitioner. The doctor is prescribing only pain medications and when one type becomes ineffective he is given another.

The company doctor is not authorized to refer the young man to a specialist at company’s cost and the worker on his small salary cannot afford the cost of a specialist visit nor the major surgery that he is told is required to bring relief from the constant excruciating pain he suffers.


Despite being seriously injured on the job he is not given extended sick leave and has to report to job sites daily. He supervises his co-workers by lying down on a make shift bed on the job and giving instructions and technical advice. He cannot afford to stay at home despite his health condition, as he will not be paid. There is no paid sick leave for prolonged absences.


He says his marriage is being affected for obvious reasons. He is thinking of leaving the job as the torment of pain and exploitation is getting to him. For such injuries unionized workers get specialist medical attention free of charge and are given light duties if they are capable of returning to work after a measure of healing is achieved.


He was given some options to pursue urgently by the National Workers Union. The major advice being to seek specialist attention at company’s cost with the Union’s intervention as the major issue is attending to his back injury. The other issues of work injury compensation and the legal options can come later.


This young man’s pain and suffering is just one example of the callous disregard, contempt and cruelty being meted out to thousands of unorganized/non-unionized workers by employers subcontracting on government properties and working for large conglomerates as outsourcers of cheap contract labour. These non-union workers comprise the vast majority (more than eighty per cent) of the national workforce.


Imagine we have an OSH Act and a Ministry of Labour which fails to monitor and report on the gross exploitation of non-unionised workers on vastly inferior terms and conditions of employment. Unsafe and unhealthy work-site practices abound in this rich country where the elite lives off the labour of the poor and controls the national wealth, which rightly belongs to all citizens.