Government was given a six-week extension after employees in its trade departments, backed by a union, dropped their tools vowing that no more work would be done until there was a commitment for immediate payment of occupational hazards allowances.
It is a fight that dates back to about 2001, and an agreement finally signed in 2009 committing government to add what is known as risk pay to its trades payroll was never honoured.
The street protest, which started yesterday, following a sit-in the day before, was called off by Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) Industrial Relations Officer Ralph Potter, after a meeting in which government agreed to form a committee, with a mandate to start the payments in a month and a half.
Workers were then advised to return to work from today.
“They have accepted that the letter of agreement written by the permanent secretary in 2009 that the government would have to honour it, and we have decided to form a working committee, which will include some persons from the ministry of finance because there are quite a bit of things involved here,” Potter said after meeting with Minster of Public Works Trevor Walker and Walter Christopher, the permanent secretary.
Despite the 2009 agreement, government has never budgeted for the outlay, which Walker said has been estimated at a million dollars a year.
Another complication relates to the fact that several segments of the ministry’s staff have been receiving similar allowances for years – even before 2009.
The specificity the sides have agreed will come in the form of a schedule. It will show information such as the rate of risk pay and tasks and conditions constituting dangers that require compensation.
It will, however, only relate to people such as refrigeration technicians, electricians, carpenters, and masons.
People who are already receiving allowances have opted to keep their deal, which guarantees them a fixed percentage of their wage for constant exposure to such perils as dust generated by stone crushers and fumes from the hot mix process.