The Social Security Board Workers, most of whom are represented by the Christian Workers Union, staged a protest today: one during their midmorning break and another during their afternoon break. According to the placards which the 40 add protestors wield, the workers called for “Fair Play of Our CBA”,” Fair Pay”, and “Stop the Intimidation” while the shirts they wore read, “united for a raise.” Floyd Neal, the General Secretary of the Christian
Workers Union, was there to represent the union as they sat down with the CEO and the management of the Social Security board to work out a way forward in the situation. It was a myriad of issues that the workers wished to ventilate, but according Floyd Neal, the main issue on the table was the overdue payment for their clothing allowance.
Floyd Neal, General Secretary, CWU: The CBA provides for clothing allowance; that is how it is termed in the CBA. But it has been used to pay for the uniform. The Board provides the uniform and in the absence of the Board providing the uniform, if it is late, then they pay the proportionate part. And that is where we are at right now. The uniforms were delivered last month… At that time when they handed over the uniform they should have handed over the proportionate part of the clothing allowance but they havent. And that is why the members took the decision “we need to protest.” And who has to pay for the uniform? The board pays for it. It is one of the benefits in the collective bargaining agreement. We are currently negotiating a new CBA and ordinarily in these things a salary increase is included every time you go thorugh the process of negotiating a new CBA . That is on the table But this was not a part of the protest. This protest concerned and focuses on the non-payment of the Board, up to now, on the clothing allowance.
But apart from pressing for payment of the clothing allowance , the union members who participated in the protest today also said they are tired of management mistreatment. The supervisor in the Legal Department of the Social Security Board Belmopan was also a part of the midday protest.
Loerena Flowers, Supervisor, Legal Dep. SSB: We had our first protest this morning; the first sign that the members are unhappy. The CEO called us and basically dismissed us with nothing. Our members will not have it. We have sat by quietly and be good for too long. They need to pay attention to us. What sort of Minsmanagement are you talking about? Intimidation; telling us that because we are working for the people and its the people’s money that people will not be on our side. We do not have the support of the public. We are not begging for anything; we come to social security every day and give our hard work and we expect to be treated with respect and dignity that is due to workers Is a raise a part of it? A raise is a part of the CBA. In fact the proposal from management does not even include any proposal about a raise. they have told us they will not discuss finances and we want to get them to the table because that is important to our members.
So while today’s protest was not necessarily centered around a salary raise, the fact that, according to the union, the board refuses to speak to them about the salary raise, was also a major part of the worker’s protest today. If “salary” and “protest” being used in the same sentence sounds like déjà vu, it is because since the prime Minister called the elections last week, we have seen 2 groups rise up and demand a raise. We asked Neal if the union is taking advantage of the election season in this regard. Here is how he responded.
Floyd Neal, General Secretary, CWU: When we entered negotiations it was not a factor in our minds that election would have been called. The elections have been called and we are sensible enough to know that if nothing happens before the elections we could very much be stymied. So we would be fools not to take advantage of the timing. But that was not a consideration that was not a calculation when we presented our CBA draft almost a year ago. And we started these negotiations before the elections were called. But does it works now to your advantage now? The fact that the Prime MInister has called elections next month gives us added urgency to concluding a CBA prior to those elections. So why is your advantage, anyway? That is how we view it. Calling elections was totally beyond our control. That is not our doing. But we would be foolish not to capitalize on what has happened here in terms of the timing.
Some 40 workers participated in the protest in front of the social security board in Belmopan Branch. But while only 40 members attended this protest, members assure that they have the support of the 185 members in all other Social Security Board Branches nationwide. Aurdrey Matura Shepherd spoke to our colleagues at Channel 7 earlier today in which she explained the terms of agreement of the clothing allowance. They also spoke to Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Social Security Board who expressed some differences in the interpretation of the previously signed CBA as it relates to the whole issue of clothing allowances.
Audrey Matura Shepherd, President CWU: They are entitled to 450.00 annually when they don’t get a uniform… if for the entire 12 months you didnt get your uniform you get the 450.00. if it is only for half of the 12 months, then its half of that so they pro rate it, thats how it works. And if it is beyond the 12 months then they get whatever amount of months; but it is every 18 months that they are entitled to get new uniforms because the policy of the Institution is that you must go to work in uniform.
Audrey Matura Shepherd, President CWU: Well what happened, we have to remember that the CBA was given in since last year November and dispite many attempts we have not been able to get the negotiations jump started . We finally within the last month tried to reach the table but of course there has been, every step of the way, there has been some setback, some disagreement, like the genuine issues they dont want to negotiate. There are a lot of internal things that have been happening and the staff has remained quiet for a long while but now they are acting out, they are speaking out.
Dough Singh, Chairman SSB: We responded to that letter indicating that, the CEO responded, that we did not interpret the clause in the bargaining agreement as they did and that there was not a financial entitlement. They responded indicating that precedence was set because in the past when the uniforms were late in delivery there was a payment made in that period; that precedence has been set and there is not only an expectation, but in their minds there is an obligation. And so they are not pleased with the board position. I must say that subsequent to that we wrote them a letter that said that we are prepared to consider a payment of an excreta as a result of the delay in the delivery if they are prepared consider our proposal in the CBA that moves the timeframe of the delivery from 18 to 24 months. And I will explain what I mean by that. Article 23 in the CBA states that “Members shall be provided with uniforms for 18 months instead of an annual clothing allowance”. so it says that you are not going to get a clothing allowance, you are going to get a uniform every 18 months. Then it goes on to say that “uniforms shall be worn at all times unless members have the employers written approval to do otherwise”. I just want to mention that on that last one that they violated the CBA by not coming in uniform. Today, i understand, that they came to work without uniform in protest, and they did not do so with the employers permission, so in such case they violated the CBA.
The CWU goes back to the negotiating table with Social Security board on Wednesday to continue discussions on a new Commercial bargaining agreement. In the meantime, SSB workers have indicated that they will keep the pressure until their demands are met and payment for their clothing allowances is, as per the previous CBA, honoured.