UPDATE: Over 500,000 customers affected by NWC strike
The industrial actions taken by workers at the National Water Commission (NWC) have affected more than 500,000 of the company’s customers.
Over 1,000 NWC facilities have been affected, including major infrastructures serving the country's urban centres.
Mark Barnett, company president, told The Star this afternoon that the NWC was caught off guard by the strike, which has forced some schools shut and is threatening the operations of scores of businesses.
More than 2,000 NWC workers have taken industrial action over an outstanding reclassification exercise as well as the ongoing public sector compensation review.
“That has been the issue except that those matters are part and parcel of a process that NWC has to go through. It is not a singular matter that NWC has full autonomy over and therefore we rely on our other stakeholders in the process,” Barnett said.
“Because of what the union perceive to be a delay, unannounced industrial action was taken,” he added.
The Jamaica Association of Local Government Officers is one of the unions representing NWC workers.
Barnett said that in previous instances the NWC was always notified of an impending industrial action, which would be accompanied by an ultimatum for a response.
“Where that ensued, we would always convene a meeting with the unions and try and resolve matters in that vein. We weren't privy to any of those as would have been allowed in the course of industrial harmony,” he said.
Workers have been off the job for more than eight hours and Barnett has indicated that it is not clear when the resumption of duties will take place.
Unions and the Ministry of Labour are currently locked in a meeting in hopes of resolving the issue.
However, Barnett said if workers do not resume duties in short order, the NWC, if necessary, will institute legal action.
“Water is essential to life and we can't be held hostage because certain things didn't go in a timely manner to please stakeholders. So, whatever it takes to get back our operations to normalcy that's what we'll have to do,” he said.
Part III subsection (9) (5) of the Labour Relations and Industrial Disputes Act forbids essential service workers from taking industrial action.
It says any industrial action taken in contemplation or furtherance of an industrial dispute by an essential service worker is unlawful unless the dispute was reported to the minister and he/she failed to refer the dispute to a tribunal for settlement or give directions in writing to the parties to settle the dispute if he/she was not satisfied that all attempts were previously made.
Additionally, if the dispute was referred to the tribunal for settlement and the tribunal failed to make an award or settle the matter within 21 days, industrial action by essential service workers cannot be deemed unlawful.
Labour Minister Karl Samuda says water has been restored “to a great degree” although he could not say whether the industrial action taken by National Water Commission workers is over.
"There are still differences," he told Parliament this afternoon of talks with unions.
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