Water Corp unions ‘in dark’ over 120 worker right-size

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

THE unions representing Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC) staff have slammed management for “practically no communication” on plans to right-size by up to 120 workers.

Dwayne Woods, president of the Bahamas Utilities Service and Allied Workers Union (BUSAWU), which represents the corporation’s line-staff, questioned how it could proceed with a proposed Voluntary Separation (VSEP) exercise in the absence of a new industrial agreement.

He told Tribune Business he had been left “confused” by the corporation seemingly proceeding with plans to offer voluntary separation packages when its industrial agreements with staff had expired last June.

Adrian Gibson, the corporation’s executive chairman, said it was “currently reviewing” plans for a voluntary separation and determining the financial compensation to be offered to staff.

“Human Resources is putting together the packages. These things take time. You have to review the full employment listing of the corporation, decide how you are going to look at the financial impact, decide how you are going to carry out such an exercise,” he said.

“Certainly that is something we endeavour to do, and we are still working on putting those packages together. I expect to have something firm in hand. I had spoken to one of the human resources managers and told her to have something to me this week.”

Asked to specify how many workers the corporation is seeking to shed, Mr Gibson said: “These are all voluntary. I would say anywhere from, let’s say conservatively, 50-120 people. There are persons who have been with the corporation 40 years or longer. Once we finish the process of internal reviews we will be engaging in a consultative process with the unions.”

He first revealed that VSEPs were coming in an interview with Tribune Business last April. He stated at the time there was “no doubt” the company will have to restructure and reorganise in a bid to align its staffing and cost base with revenues and future needs.

Mr Woods, though, told Tribune Business: “We want to notify our members that we are not privy to what is going on. I don’t understand it because I would have thought that they would deal with the industrial agreements, then the VSEPs.”

He added that his union had not held any talks with management over the VSEP offering. “We thought that the union and the corporation would have had a tripartite relationship,” Mr Woods added.

“Since the new Board took over until now we have not seen that type of arrangement. There has been little to no communication between the executive chairman and the union. If we were to be asked about the board of directors we couldn’t answer much less speak to their objectives.

“We have had persons express concerns about the morale at the corporation and they would be breaking down the doors to leave if the packages are satisfactory.”

The Water and Sewerage Management Union’s (WSMU) president, Ednel Rolle, said his members had received “absolutely no” communication from executive management on the VSEP issue. “Right now we don’t even have an industrial agreement, so all this talk about VSEPs, I don’t pay any mind to it. That can’t happen,” said Mr Rolle.

Mr Gibson, while addressing the expired agreements on Wednesday, added: “The non-managers agreement expired a couple of months ago... No formal negotiations have happened as yet. The past agreement still subsists. The conditions still apply until a new one is in place. With respect to the management union, no agreement is in place. We are abiding by the previous agreement.”

He added: “There has been quite a bit of back and forth over the years with a respect to a clause. There is also a matter of a court action filed maybe two or three years ago. The substantive matter was concluded, but it’s still before the court on the issue of damages. We have had several meetings in recent months with respect to a new agreement.”