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UCASE, BITU to discuss Mandela project with NWA Monday

Senior staff reporter

Saturday, October 06, 2018

UNIONS representing workers on the Mandela Highway improvement project, who have been on strike since last weekend, are expected to meet with the National Works Agency (NWA) on Monday.

The meeting was arranged by the Office of the Prime Minister following almost one week of tensions between some workers on the site and contractor China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC).

The industrial action prompted a meeting at Jamaica House, called by permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), Audrey Sewell on Wednesday, which included representatives of CHEC, NWA and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security.

The Union of Clerical Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) and the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) — the unions representing the workers — were not part of that meeting.

President of UCASE Vincent Morrison told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that he expects a range of issues to be covered on Monday, outside of the issues affecting the Mandela Highway workers.

“We don't mind the meeting with the National Works Agency because there are some other issues that we want to discuss. One of the things we think should happen on these public projects is that there should be a memorandum of understanding between the stakeholders, the Government, the contractors, and the unions so that we can avoid work stoppages of this sort. We think we will get the opportunity to discuss that with the National Works Agency,” he stated.

Morrison said another issue the unions intend to put on the table is the inclusion of local contractors on mega projects.

“We get the impression that the local contractors, members of the IMBA (Incorporated Master Builders Association), are being left out of these mega projects, and we don't think it's good for Jamaica; we don't think it's good for the construction industry. So apart from the issues affecting the workers at Mandela [Highway], we believe that the meeting with the NWA is a good thing,” he said.

In a statement on Thursday, the OPM said Government officials had said there were no formal complaints made to the labour ministry about a dispute between CHEC and workers, and that CHEC had assured that rates paid to workers are based on industry standards. The statement said the Government had requested information on said rates, and whether CHEC is complying with industry standards.

Yesterday UCASE rejected much of the OPM statement, arguing that workers are not being paid at industry rates. UCASE also rebutted claims that no official complaint had been made to the Labour Ministry.

“This dispute with China Harbour and its employees is not new, and the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, having sent officers there to investigate the workers' complaint, cannot justify its claim that it is not aware of the issues negatively impacting the workers on the construction site. Indeed, the ministry's last report dated May 29, 2017 tried unsuccessfully to address some of the issues affecting the employees on the site,” Morrison outlined in a statement.

He argued that the meeting convened at Jamaica House would have better served the interest of the workers had representatives of UCASE and BITU been invited to participate.

UCASE also said the CHEC representative who met with the unions on October 2 had promised to discuss the Joint Industrial Council agreement presented at that time with his superior, but to date the unions are still awaiting a response from China Harbour.

The workers, which CHEC said comprises 20 truck drivers, have complained of not being issued with payslips outlining their statutory deductions; not being paid for extra hours worked; poor conditions; and lack of access to potable water, among other issues.

The Ministry of Labour says it is monitoring reports of work stoppage by CHEC workers and will be dispatching representatives from its Occupational Safety and Health Department to further investigate the allegations raised in respect to working conditions.

CHEC has not publicly responded to the claims.