Sun | Feb 25, 2018

Decertify them! - Labour boss calls for stiff penalties for non-compliant trade unions

Published:Wednesday | February 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMWyvolyn Gager
Norman Grindley/Chief Photo Editor Kavan Gayle.
Dr Orville Taylor
Danny Roberts


Labour unions that have enjoyed many decades of lax oversight are being called out by one of their own.

Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) president, Senator Kavan Gayle, is suggesting that unions that fail to comply with accountability regulations should be decertified. As a sign of just how fed-up the BITU boss is with the non-compliance issue, he thinks there ought to be a law.

"One thing that is not in the legislation that could have led to that level of accountability is decertifi-cation of a trade union if it is not performing," he told colleagues in a recent discussion on the relevance of labour unions in Jamaica during a Fourth Floor Forum at The Gleaner's North Street, Kingston, offices.

Unions registered under the Trade Union Act are obliged to file annual returns in which they report their assets, liabilities, other financials and membership on or before August 1 each year. This information is then filed at the Registrar's Office, where it can be made available to the public.

However, trade unions that comply with the law are in the minority, it was revealed. Penalty for failing to file has been set at a paltry $20,000 on conviction, yet no one is bringing delinquents to book.

Such laxity is likely to bolster abuse, he charged. Not surprising, therefore, are reports of recent allegations of fraud occurring at one of the country's major unions in what looked like a case of officials raiding its coffers for their personal benefit.

For its part, the BITU reports full compliance.

"I know we file our financials and membership for my union every year. We believe strongly in trade union administration," declared Gayle.

The argument has been raised repeatedly in the public square that while trade unions advocate for fairness and justice in the workplace, its members have no clear idea of their financial operations and spending habits. Surely, critics have argued, unions have a corresponding duty to the members they serve.

Danny Roberts, who heads the Hugh Lawson Shearer Trade Union Education Institute, agrees. "The union is supposed to be the embodiment of democracy, and that needs to be manifested inwards as well as outwards," he stressed.

Sociologist and lecturer, Dr Orville Taylor, with his background in labour, has been putting union operations under the microscope. His findings indicate that of 12 unions (general and sector specific), only two had filed their 2016 returns at the time of his research.

When a tally is made of industrial, staff, craft and general unions, there are more than 50. Taylor reported that even when the annual returns are filed, membership remains a heavily guarded secret.

So who should ensure that unions are accountable? Delegates and their membership, replied Gayle. "At the end of the day, you report to your membership based on your constitution," he explained.

The push for greater transparency comes at a time when the mood of the country is one of increased vigilance. The unions have revealed a disturbing disregard for the accountability mechanisms that are in place to ensure that financial decisions are made in a fair and open manner and in the best interest of workers.

The trade leaders concluded that by their lack of accountability, the leadership is hurting the image of the unions, and this is one of the factors that is contributing to their dwindling membership.