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Unions agree on sharing bargaining rights at JISCO/Alpart

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Unions agree on sharing bargaining rights at JISCO/Alpart

BY BALFORD HENRY
Senior staff reporter
balfordh@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, February 01, 2019

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Three of Jamaica’s major trade unions — Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU), Union of Clerical, Administrative, and Supervisory Employees (UCASE) and National Workers Union (NWU) — are expected to share bargaining rights for close to 900 full-time workers at the JISCO/Alpart plant in Nain, St Elizabeth.

The unions met Wednesday in Kingston with the leadership of the 18-month-old Chinese entity, which has been re-established on the ruins of the Alumina Partners (Alpart) plant, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. They discussed a proposal from the owners for a joint bargaining unit represented by all three unions, and the unions are understood to have agreed to a membership sharing offer.

JISCO/Alpart’s management made the proposal following discussions with their parent company, Jiquan Iron and Steel (JISCO) in China, about the future of the relatively new operation.

This followed threats of industrial action by UCASE, which accused the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of delaying a possible representational rights poll.

JISCO has insisted that the next 24 months of the operations at Alpart are “a particularly sensitive period” for the investment, echoing fears by Mike Henry, minister with responsibility for the project, that increasing rivalry between the unions for members could damage the plant’s recovery and endanger JISCO’s plans to invest in expensive and extensive projects in St Elizabeth, including the Jamaica-Gansu special economic zone.

UCASE’s claim for bargaining rights dates back, officially, to May 2018, and the BITU to September 2018.

It is not clear when the NWU sought similar rights, however, it is of historical interest that Nain was the battlefield during the BITU-NWU rivalry in the 1960s for bauxite/alumina sector membership, which pitted former Prime Minister Michael Manley against current Speaker of the House of Representatives Pearnel Charles, as young organisers for the NWU and the BITU, respectively.

JISCO said in a letter to the three unions that it was mindful of the contributions the trade union movement has made to the Jamaican bauxite/alumina industry, and wanted to remove the negative implications of the rivalry for the membership of permanent employees at the plant.

“We have taken a considered decision to voluntarily recognise the mentioned unions as bargaining agents,” the company conceded.

JISCO/Alpart also discredited rumours which had been spreading across the parish that it was planning to close down the plant for six to eight months, adding that it would make every effort to increase production from 1.6 million tonnes to two million tonnes per year.

The company said that it would also replace aged equipment which it had taken over from former owners UC Rusal, in order to make the plant more efficient.

However, JISCO is also asking for a contribution from the workers and their unions, which would be a 24-month moratorium on wage increases.

“It is our desire to operate in an environment which is friendly to current and future investments. The next 24 months is a particularly sensitive period for this investment,” JISCO said.

The Jamaica-Gansu special economic zone and industrial park is to be included in US$6 billion in total investments to be made locally by JISCO, inclusive of bauxite-related expansion and development, and will be integrated significantly with the Vernamfield Aerotropolis being developed in Clarendon.

Recent growth in Jamaica’s mining and quarrying industry was due mainly to the reopening of the refinery and this is expected to continue into 2019/20 with the Jamaica-Gansu special economic zone and industrial park.

However, a groundbreaking, which had been planned for the economic zone and industrial park for last December, was not held and no announcement has been made of a new date since.

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