Union leader starts racial row in Barbados
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday, May 3, 2012 – Union protests against the firing of a handful of workers by an international jewellery store has taken on a different colour as prominent labour leader Sir Roy Trotman has been accused of racialising the dispute.
During a fiery May Day presentation marking the annual recognition of Labour Day celebrations in Barbados, eminent trade unionist Sir Roy Trotman made targeted remarks about recent employment terminations carried out by an “Egyptian Jew” and linked the firings to attempts by those fired to join the labour movement.
Sir Roy is reported to have further went on to make other targeted remarks about “foreign people” and sent the message that Barbados was not Syria, Damascus or Libya.
The union leader’s remarks have been strongly condemned by the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which issued a statement yesterday (Wednesday) evening decrying the racialised statements and calling on Sir Roy to retract them.
New York-based Diamonds International, which has several branches in Barbados and throughout the Caribbean, terminated seven workers at the beginning of this week out of their 130 employees across the island. While the firings by managing director Jacob Hassid, who is Jewish, came shortly after interest was expressed by several employees in bringing union representation to bargain on their behalf, the company has publicly stated through their attorney that the firings were in process before any union overtures were made and that they were in fact a response to unbecoming behaviour by the employees.
The full text of the Chamber of Commerce’s reaction to the firing is contained below:
“The Barbados Chamber of Commerce and industry is appalled by the statements attributed to Sir Roy Trotman in relation to one of our member companies Diamonds International.
“Sir Roy is reported to have said that 20 workers at Diamonds International were terminated on Monday 30 April 2012 because they met on Saturday April 28 to discuss whether they should form a bargaining unit. He is also reported to have referred to the managing director of the company as an “Egyptian Jew” and called on all employers to “to tell these foreign people that this is not Syria, this is not Damascus, this is not Libya”.
The BCCI fully supports the right of any employee to join a union of their choice and the principles laid out in the protocol of the social partnership. We also support the provision within the draft employment rights bill under section 30 which indicates that an employee should not be discriminated against on account of their race or religion and suggest that neither should an employer be discriminated against on a similar basis.
“The BCCI has consulted with Diamonds International to ascertain the facts and they have reported that 7 persons had their contracts terminated following an extended period of consultation as a result of the recommendations of their immediate supervisors. Their termination is in no way related to any intention that they might have had to form a bargaining unit. In fact, the company stressed that it has informed staff that they are free to join any organisation that they choose, including a union, without fear of repercussion.
“Over the last four years while the economy has been very difficult and many companies within Barbados have closed, Diamonds International has honoured the Protocol of the Social Partnership and has not laid anyone off as a result of the recession. In fact, Diamonds International has shown great commitment to the Barbadian economy by expanding during this difficult time, most notably by opening new stores at the Lime Grove Lifestyle Centre. The company currently employs 130 persons.
“The managing director, Mr. Jacob Hassid, has lived in Barbados for 17 years and he and his wife have three children all of whom were born in Barbados. When someone has shown this level of commitment to our country, we should not be referring to them by race or religion and seeking to make them feel personally uncomfortable.
“We would hope that Sir Roy would investigate the facts and, once he is satisfied that he has been mis-informed, would withdraw his uncalled for remarks.”