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Punishing pensioners - NWU cancels health benefits for retired members who have moved to UCASE

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Ryon Jones, Staff Reporter

One of the most powerful trade unions in Jamaica, the National Workers Union (NWU), has cancelled the health benefits it offered to some of its pensioners, with the main persons hurt being those who moved with the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) when it ended its affiliation with the NWU.

"Every member of staff who leaves this institution in good stead will continue to get any assistance, even through the greatest of sacrifice, until they do depart," General Secretary Granville Valentine told The Sunday Gleaner, even as he claimed that the move to discontinue the health benefits to pensioners had been forced by financial constraints.

"All of them that chose to tear this union down, to deny this union of revenue, cannot reasonably expect to have the union extending to them the gratitude of discretion.

"The arm of the NWU that departed from us and took a large portion of the business with it, that portion should maintain those that are affiliated to it and have dedicated their time and are so loyal to it," added Valentine in an obvious reference to former NWU members who moved with UCASE.

Loyalty

Among those pensioners who have lost their health benefit is Government Senator Navel Clarke, who came out of retirement to act as a consultant to his long-time NWU colleague Vincent Morrison, who is the president of UCASE.

"They had a medical coverage, which was put in place by me as the chief negotiator, for the staff of the NWU in 1976," Clarke, a former NWU general secretary, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"Because we had a number of persons who were near the age of retirement, it was decided that since salaries were low and they wouldn't have made any contribution, they would cover them on their retirement.

"Since that time, everyone who retired would be given a letter from the administration stating that when you receive your pension from LOJ (Life of Jamaica), now Sagicor, your medical coverage would be guaranteed and continued, and you don't have to make a contribution to it after you have retired. The union will take care of all of that," added Clarke.

Clarke said he made his contribution of $1,000-plus up to the end of his 37 years of service in April 2012 and had suffered no serious illness since then. However, when he visited his doctor last November and presented his health card, he was told he was no longer covered.

Reality of the times

"When I asked the agent from Sagicor what was happening, he said that the union stopped paying the money from September 2014. No information was sent to the pensioners nor were any alternative arrangements made so that we could benefit," charged Clarke.

Valentine said it is just the reality of the times and the union can no longer afford some benefits.

"There are instances that an organisation will have some things that they can do from time to time - compassionate benefits - but we are going through hard times like every other institution, and there are some things that you just can't do anymore," said Valentine.

"We just can't afford certain things anymore. There were prudent decisions that had to be taken in the interest of the union, and some of the decisions may not get the support of everybody. At the end of the day, the institution is bigger than all of us."

But that explanation did not sit well with Clarke, who thinks the NWU could not be negotiating on behalf of workers with their own employees getting worse treatment.

"Can you imagine a union going to a workplace and hearing that the management treats their workers like that? What you think they would do?" asked Clarke.

Protecting workers

"A union should protect its workers, and more importantly, those who have served to build up the organisation. It is an inhuman act, and they are putting us in a position where we can say if anybody should die, I would call it manslaughter."

Valentine said the financial woes of the NWU are due to the failure of numerous institutions, including state agencies, to pay over union dues.

"There are government agencies that owe us dues for six months; some owe us for four months. There are companies that owe us for three to four months and schools that owe us for eight months, and this is an institution that depends largely on the union dues," argued Valentine.

"When you look at government institutions, they are the biggest group that owes union dues, and we are talking about millions of dollars."

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com