NWU veterans urge PNP, JCTU to step in

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NWU veterans urge PNP, JCTU to step in

Saunderson, Hunter lament no General Executive Committee meeting in six years

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, November 24, 2019

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Two senior officers of the problem-plagued National Workers' Union (NWU) are calling on the leadership of both the People's National Party (PNP) and the Jamaica Confederation of Trade Unions (JCTU) to intervene in resolving the issue affecting the union's operations over the past five years.

The officers are calling on Dr Peter Phillips, as the president of the PNP, to which the union is an affiliate since it was founded as the workers' arm of the party in 1952 and with accredited voting delegates, to intervene to reduce tension within the union.

They are also seeking the assistance of the JCTU, as the body which represents the trade union movement in Jamaica, to make an effort to help restore adherence to the union's constitution and the general rules of the trade unions.

The call was made by two leading officers of the union, Vice-President/Deputy Island Supervisor Allan Hunter, and retired Deputy Island Supervisor Owen Saunderson, in an interview they requested with the Jamaica Observer recently.

According to the two, both union officers and general employees of the union have been affected by non-payment or late payment of salaries, as well as loss of medical insurance over the past five years, following the takeover of the union by General Secretary Granville Valentine in 2014.

Among the problems they listed were: No meeting of the union's General Executive Committee (GEC), which is its governing body, in approximately six years; no financial secretary appointed since the death of Roosevelt Walker nearly four years ago. The financial secretary is responsible for all revenues and payments by the union.

They say that the union's last elected president, Leo Osbourne, has been living abroad since 2017, after he and Saunderson and Hunter succeeded in having the Supreme Court bar Valentine from convening a special Congress in 2017, which would have elected a new GEC.

A number of other areas of the union's constitution continue to be breached by the current leadership, including the failure to elect an assistant general secretary, since Valentine stepped up as general secretary in 2014 and took over the leadership of the union booting then President Vincent Morrison, the pair have said.

Morrison, who had been with the union for the previous 45 years and had served as president since 2006, was sent on retirement leave and barred from entering the union's head office at East Street in downtown Kingston. He has since taken up leadership of the former NWU-affiliated union, the Union of Clerical, Administrative and Supervisory Employees (UCSAE), which is based in Half-Way-Tree.

However, Morrison insists that he was pushed out of the union in a major purge in 2014, from which the NWU has not recovered since. He accused Valentine of victimisation.

Recent activities at the union have been identified as clear breaches of its constitution, including the loss of medical benefits for financial members and staff, which has not been available for the past five years.

Saunderson, a former PNP Councillor for the Braeton division in the Portmore Municipal Council and deputy mayor of the municipality, says he is owed $193,000 in payment for drugs for which the medical scheme should be responsible, as well as some $240,000 in travelling allowances for the first six months of 2018.

He has taken the matter to court and the trial is set to resume on November 28. Hunter has also taken the union to court for over $1 million in unpaid salaries.

However, the absence of a proper GEC is probably the most serious issue facing the union, now.

The non-functioning GEC, which is constitutionally presided over by the president or, in his absence, a vice-president, is the governing body of the union between its congresses. It instructs the general secretary, and has the power to impose fines for conduct prejudicial to the interest of the union.

“There has been no GEC meeting in approximately six years. There is no financial secretary for the past four years. There is no president since the last one was expelled by the general secretary and there has been no assistant general secretary since Valentine was appointed in breach of the constitution,” Saunderson pointed out.

“The union is not what it used to be. The union is deteriorating badly. Bad, bad. To the extent that some people are not even getting paid,” Hunter commented.

“Imagine, we are negotiating for workers to have medical coverage, and for the past five years we have had not had access to our medical benefit,” Saunderson complained.

The two outgoing officers have accused the current president of the union, Valentine, of acting unilaterally in making decisions and giving himself benefits which are not properly approved.

There was no immediate reaction from Valentine.


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