Be 'even handed', unions tell Gov't on enforcing law

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A UNION leader last night demanded that the Government be "even handed" and enforce the law requiring employers to meet and negotiate with recognised bargaining agents within 45 days.

Obie Ferguson, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) president, told Tribune Business that the labour movement had "no problem" complying with the legal requirement for all unions to file their annual financial returns by June 1. Disputing a Department of Labour press statement, which said "many" unions were non-compliant with this provision in the Industrial Relations Act, Mr Ferguson said the TUC was working with "one or two" affiliates that may be lagging to bring them into line. Yet he also urged the Government to apply "the same power and will" when it came to requiring employers to negotiate in 'good faith' with unions who had attained 'recognised' bargaining agent status with their employees.

"What we also want the Registrar [of Trade Unions] to do is to use the same power and will to require employers to come to the Conciliation Board and meet, when they're required to meet, and honour the recognition status of a union and meet with them within 45 days," Mr Ferguson told Tribune Business.

"There's a legal requirement statutorily imposed on an employer, where a union is recognised, to meet and negotiate in good faith. The Registrar is legally required to enforce that provision as well. We'd like him to reinforce that provision as well as enforce the provision with regard to union financial returns.

"We're also saying the Registrar has the jurisdiction and the power to do precisely what he's doing with respect to annual returns. We're asking him to be even-handed and do the same thing."

Mr Ferguson, though, acknowledged the importance of unions filing annual returns given that they were handling - and spending - dues paid by thousands of Bahamian workers.

"When you involve worker funds, worker dues and are expending those funds for the purpose of running and administering the union, you are mandated to give a proper accounting of those funds," Mr Ferguson told Tribune Business.

"We don't have a difficulty with the unions complying with the law. Each union is required by law to have its audited financial statements prepared and submitted to the Registrar. I suspect one or two of them are not up-to-date.

"What we have been doing in the TUC is assiduously working to make sure all unions affiliated with the TUC are complying with the Act and make sure they become regularised."

The Department of Labour, in a statement yesterday, warned trade unions to put their finances in order or face being 'struck off' if they fail to file their annual returns by June 1.

It served notice of its intention to enforce the Industrial Relations Act's requirements, and warned the "many" trade unions not currently in compliance - and making "no efforts" to do so - they have less then four months to reform their ways.

"Many of the existing trade unions are also not in compliance with Section 30 of the Industrial Relations Act, which requires them to submit annual returns to the Registrar of Trade Unions by June 1 annually," the Department said.

"A current list of compliant trade unions will be published annually, shortly after the annual June 1 deadline passes. The Department will also provide a Certificate of Compliance that will be valid for one calendar year. This will certify the Union's status with the Department of Labour pursuant to the Industrial Relations Act."

And the Department warned: "The Registrar of Trade Unions has compiled a list of trade unions to be struck from the register, which will include unions that are not in compliance and those that are not making efforts to rectify their position.

"The Regulatory and Compliance Unit of the Department of Labour looks forward to the support and full compliance of all trade unions, and hopes that these processes provide for greater transparency and accountability in the trade union community."