St. John’s, Antigua – Fast food outlet Burger King is under threat of closure less than a year after opening doors in Antigua, amidst a row between several of its workers and management.
General Secretary of the Antigua & Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU) Senator David Massiah, who accused the restaurant of practicing union busting tactics, is calling on the Labour Commissioner Hesketh Williams and the Minister of Labour Dr Errol Cort to withdraw the company’s operations licences.
In a statement issued yesterday, Massiah “condemned the apparent attempts by local fast food establishment, Burger King, to undermine the rights of its employees to join a union.”
He said, “should it continue to defy the laws of Antigua & Barbuda” the business should be shut down.
OBSERVER Media understands that a few months ago 30 per cent of the company’s staff (eight workers) signed a petition to become unionised and a month ago six of them were laid off.
The company reportedly said it had to shed workers as part of a restructuring plan to cope with slow business.
“They sent home the workers last month and the opportunity for severance would have arisen in January. In the meantime, the workers would have still been allowed to vote to become unionised on November 28.
“But just days ago the company wrote them cheques to let them go entirely and that would rule them out of voting to become unionised,” a union representative explained last night.
Massiah expressed shock and dismay that the business entity would attempt to frustrate workers from engaging the legal representation of a union.
“This is totally unheard of. Not at this stage of our development, not in this era should we have any company exerting this type of authority over the democratic privileges of any group of workers,” Senator Massiah said.
“We are taking a very strong view against the business in this matter and the union intends to correct the situation forthwith,” he added.
Apart from axing the workers, the business has been accused of paying the workers less than they are entitled in the absence of the two weeks notice.
“The contracts indicate the workers work eight hours a day and they’ve paid them off at a rate of five hours a day. Additionally, after having already completed seven months on the job, the workers would have gathered equity and been entitled to some payment but they got none,” another representative revealed.
Added to that, the trade unionist said the workers have also been paid less than they are entitled for vacation.
“Since they worked for $80 a day they should have received $80 for each vacation day but they’ve only been paid $50, which is even less than the $60 minimum wage pay under our labour laws,” the source indicated.
Meantime, to explain the alleged illegality of preventing workers from becoming unionised, a third trade unionist described the move by the business as a union busting tactic. It has seemingly driven fear into the remaining workers who are now afraid to stand in solidarity with their former colleagues.
The trade unionist said, “Under the Constitution, Section 13(1) everyone has the freedom to associate or not to. And under Division K (3) of the Labour Code employees have the right to associate with each other, with a trade union to form, join or assist trade unions to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing; and to engage in other concerted activities for mutual aid or protection.
“Their actions should not be accepted. Under our laws an employer can be charged for infringing the rights of the employee that are outlined in section K(3),” the source stressed.
The bargaining agent also noted that Burger King’s decision appears to be a breach of the Article 23 Section 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which indicates that one has a right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interest.
Efforts to reach Burger King owner Stuart Wexelman proved unsuccessful last night.