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posted 16 Nov 2015, 18:09 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 16 Nov 2015, 18:16 ]
It seems a long time ago. Come to think of it, it was a long time ago. To be exact…8th March 2013.

Into the office of the National Workers Union comes a worker from a small company with six application forms and unions dues for two months. All the monthly paid workers in this small company had joined the union and paid enough union dues to keep the Recognition Board happy.

Promptly, two months later, the union submitted a claim for recognition to the Registration Recognition and Certification Board. That's when “promptly” ended, because it took until November 2015 before the Union was issued a Certificate of Recognition.

To be fair to the Recognition Board (you have to be occasionally!), the former trade unionist and former Minister of Labour Errol McLeod never got around to appointing a Recognition Board for over a year. That certainly did not help. But the problem is more fundamental than that.

The procedures used by the Recognition Board seem almost designed to delay the process of recognition. Instead of the union and the employer sitting down and sorting out what they think the bargaining unit should be, the Board has Examiners who meet each side separately and privately.

They meet the union and “clarify” what the union thinks the bargaining unit should be. Then they meet the employer and “clarify” what the employer thinks. Then they go back to the union with what the employer said, and if necessary go on like this until they think both sides have “clarified” their position. Then the Examiner does a report to the Board on what he/she thinks the bargaining unit should be.

In all this time, the union and the employer have never sat down face to face. Why? According to the Board: to protect the union from victimisation by the employer (who, by and large, will not want union recognition).

This is nonsense said a judge  in a recent High Court judgment involving the Recognition Board and Desalcott. To quote:

“… trade unions are hardly considered secret or underground societies. They are powerful organisations whose contribution to our national development has long been recognised.”

But it is the process of ongoing closed and private clarification meetings that are the real killers and these were the subject of critical comment from the judge in the Desalcott case who said:

“I have considered the procedure adopted by the Board in relation to the application as well as the relevant law and find that the rules of natural justice were breached ...”

This was a conclusion the trade union movement had come to many years ago. The current system is an obstacle to recognition that has to be replaced by one which enables workers to get their unions recognised within three months at the latest.

The sort of fundamental changes that are necessary would require changes to the Industrial Relations Act, and the prospects of that happening from this Government are as minimal as from the previous one.

The NWU has made proposals based on direct discussions between the union and the employer to sort out the bargaining unit that both sides think make sense. Why it is felt that unions that negotiate collective agreements are not capable of negotiating the parameters of a bargaining unit is difficult to understand.

Where does this leave the recognition claim from this small group of workers?

When they joined the union, there were six of them representing 100% of the workforce. During the “clarification” process, the employer told the Board that they only had four workers. So the Union had 120% membership! We never met the employer so we got no explanation for this.

By the time the Recognition Certificate was issued, the number of workers in the bargaining unit had been reduced to three and the union members? There are none left!

So the union is left with a bargaining unit and no members.

The very reasons that led the workers to join the union in the first place – a poor employer and bad terms and conditions - were the very reasons that led the workers, who could not wait for recognition, to go and find other jobs.

It's a good job that section 32(1) of the Industrial Relations Act requires the Board to “expeditiously determine all applications for recognition ...” otherwise this process might really take a long
Gerry Kangalee,
16 Nov 2015, 18:15