Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Tribute to Alvin Sinclair

Published:Tuesday | March 8, 2016 | 3:00 AM
Alvin Sinclair

Jamaica, the shipping industry, and the trade union movement have lost a patriot, an outstanding negotiator and nation-builder. I met Alvin Sinclair over 30 years ago on joining the Gleaner Company as a subeditor.

In those days, the final preparation of each day's news pages required teamwork between a subeditor and what was then called a 'paste-up artist', the job Sinclair performed at the Gleaner at that time.

He was also senior union delegate for the workers, represented by the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), and those of us not unionised or belonging to the weaker Union of Journalists and Allied Employees could only watch in awe atsMr Sinclair and the BITU secured improved benefits for workers in his bargaining unit.

Our paths never crossed again until I rejoined the SAJ in 2003 with the role of sitting across the negotiating table and at the Joint Industrial Council (JIC) to hammer out the collective labour agreements that set the standards for conditions of employment and compensation across the shipping industry.

On arrival, I was convinced that I was a seasoned negotiator. Perhaps I convinced Mr Sinclair and others, too. However, over the next 12 years, I literally went to the Alvin Sinclair Industrial Relations University, being shaped by the brilliance of a most worthy adversary across the bargaining table.

Sinclair epitomised the essence of progressive unionism, that wisdom that teaches that only a profitable industry and company can provide employees with decent compensation and opportunities to improve themselves and their standards of living. He was nobody's lackey and could disagree vehemently with management on issues, but similarly, counsel his members into an acceptance of what he would consider a reasonable perspective of the employer.

 

HIS LEGACIES

He travelled worldwide on personal and union matters and made it his business to visit ports on different continents to benchmark systems of work and working conditions of port workers. He used this knowledge well in his deliberations at the Joint Industrial Council (JIC).

He implored the JIC to use the time between negotiations to discuss issues that are developmental in nature and that touched the lives of employees, business, and industry in general. It is certainly among his legacies that the JIC continues to be a forum for discussions of issues pertinent not just to industrial relations, but to national development.

Four years ago, we negotiated a historic four-year collective labour agreement, the first of its kind in the shipping industry. This was done because management and the trade unions, led by Sinclair, wanted to make our contribution to Jamaica's vision of an expanded logistics industry. It took guts for any union leader to ask his members to 'hold strain' and give an industry or a country the opportunity to nurture new possibilities. Sinclair was that visionary.

I shall miss even our most disagreeable arguments. I shall miss his staunch riposte - "bury it and tomb it" - when he considered my wage offer derisory.

Jamaica is poorer because too few companies had an Alvin Sinclair as the union officer representing their employees.

Trevor Riley

CEO, Shipping Association of Jamaica