Close to 1,000 Caribbean Airlines (CAL) employees who belong to the Aviation Communication and Allied Workers Union (ACAWU) may be forced to negotiate on their own behalf if the company decides to send them home during its retrenchment exercise.
But the union says it’s no fault of theirs. ACAWU’s secretary general, Peter Farmer told Guardian Media yesterday the company is not meeting and treating with the union as a recognised majority union (RMU) since it began operating in 2007.
Farmer said the workers, who have been paying their union dues, sometimes in person, are now scared about what their future may now hold.
In 2017, the Industrial Court found CAL was a successor of BWIA and ruled that unions that held recognised majority status under BWIA should be recognised by CAL.
The airline has since appealed the decision.
But Farmer said while that matter drags on, the employees are finding themselves in the line of fire.
“The whole thing is whether they are a successor company, they are taking a position that they are not a successor company, the Industrial Court has said that they are a successor company,” Farmer said.
In 2007, the Communication, Transport and General Workers’ Union filed a matter against the BWIA West Indies Airways Limited and Caribbean Airlines Limited in the Industrial Court.
The union was seeking a declaration that CAL was the successor employer to BWIA and its certificates of recognition were valid, among other things.
In its ruling, the court found that CAL was indeed the successor employer to BWIA and it had conducted the same operations as BWIA, in the same way with the same category of workers as did BWIA.
The court also found that there was substantial continuity of the business enterprise of BWIA by CAL.
“We further find that the successor employer, CAL, cannot rid itself of a Recognised Majority Union by asserting that there is no existing collective agreement and that the employees who were represented by the Union are no longer employed with BWIA,” the Court found.
Yesterday, Farmer said that judgment opened the door for the recognition of the other recognised majority unions to retain their status.
However, CAL has appealed the decision and a judgment on that appeal is still pending.
Farmer said the union intends to write to CAL to request a meeting to discuss the planned retrenchment exercise, in which the company said it will send home 25 per cent or 450 of its staff.
Farmer said ACAWU is prepared to file an Industrial Relations Offence if CAL refuses to meet with them to negotiate on their members’ behalf.
“All of these things don’t auger well for them and I trust that in due course, they will recognise that. And if they don’t, that the court will underline that was their duty to so do, as they say, you can run but you can’t hide. Let’s see what the court says and if justice is to prevail.”
Guardian Media asked CAL’s corporate communications manager Dionne Ligoure about how the negotiation process will be carried out with employees who do not fall under the RMU, the T&T Airline Pilots Association (TTALPA.)
“In the event that a retrenchment exercise has to be implemented, this will be based on the applicable law in each jurisdiction. In most jurisdictions Caribbean Airlines must give formal notice in writing of retrenchment to the following: 1. Each worker. 2. The recognised majority union. 3. The minister of labour,” Ligoure said.
Guardian Media contacted Labour Minister Stephen Mc Clashie, to ask whether the company had sent any correspondence relating to the retrenchment exercise to him.
He said up until Wednesday, he had received no such document from CAL.
Mc Clashie also said that in relation to ACAWU, the union was advised to go to the Industrial Court to file for successorship so they can get their RMU status.
When he was told the matter was already adjudicated and CAL had appealed the judgment, Mc Clashie said, “If they appealed the decision, the union has not gotten the right to successorship until the courts pronounce on it and therefore the company is under no obligation in law, they cannot insist that the company recognise them as such.”