We have been keeping abreast of the strained relationship between the Staffers at the Social Security Board and their Board of Directors that has Christian Workers’ Union (CWU) and Social Security Board (SSB) at odds over the lengthy negotiations for the workers’ Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Yesterday the Union took offense to recent statements made by Board Chairman Douglas Singh. In a press release the Union charged Singh with providing misleading and inaccurate information and intending to raise public sentiment against the workers, particularly since SSB’s own negotiators asked for a complete media blackout concerning the proposals and discussions on the CBA, which the CWU says it has honored and is disappointed that Singh has not. In addition to being in bad faith, the Union calls the comments “disingenuous and prejudicial to the good working relationship anticipated by the Union during negotiations and beyond, and says their release is an attempt to correct this alleged misinformation. Falling on the heal of yesterday’s press release, the CWU and SSB Staff Union Representatives held a press conference this afternoon in which they brought a few of many lingering issues to the fore. At the head table were CWU President Audrey Matura Shepherd, Chief Union Rep. Leonora Flowers and Deputy Chief Union Rep. Ella Waight.
Audrey Matura Shepperd; CWU President: There are several issues that have been concerning the staff for some time, and I think what people don’t know is that the issue of the uniform and the actual breech of the CBA is the last straw that has broken this camel’s back.
Leonora Flowers; Chief Union Rep: We come here today with a mandate that staff is insistent on management abiding and complying with the CBA, what we have signed on to over the last three years. We get a uniform for eighteen months. If a uniform is not provided when it expires, then we go back to a clothing allowance. The clothing allowance is what management
has refused to pay. It has been paid in 2013 under the same agreement, with the same terms and now, as we are being told, it is ambiguous within the CBA and it will not be paid. We have letters to show that it had been paid in the past and we are wondering what now? Where did this new interpretation come from? And that is the single reason why members have rejected the stance of management tht it will not be paid. Whe we asked about the payment last week, we were told by the CEO ina letter to CWU that they are prepared to pay an ex gratia payment if members are willing to sign on to accepting the new uniform for a period of 24 months. That’s adding 6 months on to what is the norm and we have not yet negotiated it because that 24 months is currently in the proposed CBA; the one we are currently negotiating; but they are seeking to take it out of the CBA proposal and attach it to us getting this current payment that is due and signing on to that. We have rejected that idea. Since then, we’ve been told by the chairman that that is off the table. There is no offer even of the ex gratia payment which we had originally refused and they are not willing to pay the clothing allowance that became due for the period November last year to current date when we have received our uniform. And that is one of the primary reasons that brought us here today.
Deputy Chief Union Rep., Ella Waight, made it clear that they have been negotiating in good faith with the Board, even in light of the board’s stall tactics as it relates to raise of pay.
Ella Waight; Deputy Chief Union Rep.: Since over the past nine years, the employees of Social Security Board got one raise of 5% in 2011. Because the last negotiations took about 4 to 5 years to complete, our members directed us to go into negotiations beginning with financials. We did that. Our first meeting we told them we want to begin with financials, but because the financials of the board was not completed through the process it had to go through, we decided we’d leave the financials for now but we’d continue with the wording because we want to continue with this process. There are many people saying that we are doing this because we want to jump and get this finished before election. We had already gone into negotiations saying we want to begin with financials, and when it comes to financials we want to deal with our salary adjustments because that affects every single employee of our organization, and we want to clarify this point.
President of CWU, Audrey Matura Shepherd, cited that the Board of directors and those in Upper Management are employing “stall tactics” in dealing with the CBA that has been presented to them since November of 2015.
Audrey Matura Shepperd; CWU President: I think what you are learning from today is that there are many things that happen at the management level, at the board level that the staff is not aware about and that there is not full and frank disclosure. For example, in the negotiations presented that we want to deal with the financials, we can’t get the financials from them and they are holding it back and they are saying that they have to wait until the next Social Security Board meeting which will be almost the end of the month. It’s a complete stall tactics . I think what also needs to be put into context is that this CBA was submitted to them since November of last year. November will come one year later and they have found every reason not to negotiate. One of the reasons was, the other day, when NTUCB appointed Mr. Floyd Neal, who is the general secretary of CWU, to that board, they said that that would be a conflict of interest because Floyd Neal represents CWU and CWU would negotiate the CBA and it can’t be that Mr. Neal would be on the board and also be on the negotiating team. But yet, in a hypocritical way, and ironically, they put two members of their board now on the negotiating team. So, doesn’t the real conflict of interest appear? So there are lots of things going on at Social Security Board that their employees have tried quietly to address. We’re only coming public. We at the union know only percentage of it because they have a process. First, they tried to deal with it with themselves, then they go to their union rep, then it escalates to the union only when they can’t do anything . When it escalated to the union it’s not necessarily for the union to take action because they are trying very hard to have good industrial relations. But when they reach this point, let it be clear, all the employees have been canvassed. It’s not the leadership of the union telling them what to do. It’s the membership from SSB telling the union what they want to do. And this plan of action today was properly planned by the membership. This is only one in a series of events because they are saying that they have waited too long for their board, for their management to respect them and their CBA and they think that they just keep giving way and trying hard to keep things quiet, to keep things under control and they have reached the point where they are at the breaking point.
Matura Shepherd went on to take aim at Board Chairman Douglas Singh for recent statements made insinuating that the employees are in fact the problem in the entire negotiation process.
Audrey Matura Shepperd; CWU President: I don’t think what he is doing is fair because what he is trying to say then is pitting the members who contribute to Social Security Board against the employees as though the employees are the ones who make decisions as o how many people go to Social Security Boardto go and get some certain benefits, to the limited benefits under the law. Employees can’t change the law. It is the board that makes recommendation to the parliamentarians as to any increase, decrease, anything. It is the board which decides how much tens of millions of dollars they will allow the government to use for BEL and BTL. It is the board in cahoots with the government that decides how to siphon money, especially around election to make certain projects occur. It is the board that decides who is the investor that gets money. It is the board that decides how certain transactions, those that benefit certain people within the board through their companies and so on. We will reveal a lot of these things. I’m throwing it out there to warn the chairman, be careful what you say because you have skeletons in your closet. Don’t attack the staff as though they are the final decision maker. The staff had kept quiet for a long time. The staff had signed confidentiality agreement and they have kept things confidential but come on people. Be smart. If you have a problem with how your social security scheme is being managed, it’s not the staff that tells them, oh, put the millions of dollars where the politician tells you to put it. It’s not even the who appoints those politically appointed people. The staff has to follow. They are the last ones in the chain. It is the politician who appoints the board. It is the board then who decides what management will do. It is the management that then goes down to middle management. It is middle management who then tells the staff how to implement. What is happening here is because they will be exposed now they are trying to make sure that the public hates the front line people. It is the same front line people, who now, under their new transformation program – the theme is “Set to Go” . There is a new transformation that you all need to investigate how come half a million dollars have already been spent but there is no true transformation. The people on the ground aren’t feeling it. It is the media that needs to go and investigate. Who is the person that they have hired as a consultant? And why is it that the recommendation right now is to make management top heavy under this new transformation? And the staff is not getting the benefit. It so happens that if they had negotiated the CBA from last year when we asked them to, this crisis wouldn’t coincide with many of the other projects that they have. So, they are the one who decided now that because they realize that they cannot get away anymore with just pushing the staff away, disrespecting them, abusing them, that what they will do now is the chairman giving interviews about what is going on. What happened to the CEO? Why is it that the chairman doesn’t make the CEO go out and explain? Let me tell you. There is more that will come out but for now I’ve said enough because I don’t think that the people in this country understand what is happening at Social Security Board and they need to hold management and board accountable; not turn against the employee. The employee is as much a victim of the system and the process as the people out there who contribute to social security. So how suddenly the chairman wants to spin it around and make it seem as though it’s the staff that makes decisions? Come on. Common sense will tell you.
Demonstrations continued in Belmopan today in front of the SSB office during the worker’s lunch break.