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Chevron ignoring laws, customs, good industrial relations

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Chevron ignoring laws, customs, good industrial relations

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Chevron West Indies Ltd ignoring laws, customs, and good industrial relations practices
By By Sir Keithlyn B Smith (former general secretary of Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union)
Monday, March 7th, 2011.

In a letter dated December 20 2006, the Human Resource Manager of Texaco West Indies Ltd informed the Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union that Texaco had become Chevron West Indies Ltd. The letter stated inter alia, “effective immediately, Texaco Ltd has changed its name to Chevron West Indies Ltd. Please make note that this is just a corporate name change which will in no way affect the business operation, culture and heritage that we have enjoyed for the past 50 years in Antigua. Therefore the rights and obligations of Chevron, formally Texaco Ltd, remain the same as they were prior to the change of name.”

The immediate reaction of the Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union was that a sale or change of name is a very serious matter and there must be nothing secret about it when it comes to workers’ tenure because workers must have a say in whether they want severance pay.

The sale to Chevron was very secretive. On receipt of the news the workers immediately requested from their employer their severance pay. Their employer bluntly refused.

The Union submitted the case to the labour commissioner. While this case is pending, Chevron’s representatives informed the Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union on March 16, 2010 that Chevron West Indies Ltd is up for sale and the company would keep the union informed of the progress. At that time, the union’s representative made it abundantly clear to the company that the question of severance pay for the employees and other related matters must be settled before any new management takes charge of the business.

Between the meeting of March 16, 2010 and mid-November 2010, the Chevron group did not inform the workers nor their representatives of the progress of the sale. As a matter of fact, the ABWU thought Chevron had abandoned the idea.

Surprisingly, on November 18, 2010, the management of Chevron informed the Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union that final arrangements had been made to sell Chevron to Rubis, a French company to which Chevron had decided to transfer the employees. The company’s representatives further informed the union that the sale would conclude in March 2011.

The Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union immediately responded to Chevron and in a letter dated December 3, 2010, the Union stated inter alia, “you informed us that final arrangements were being made to sell Chevron to Rubis a French company and Chevron has decided to transfer the employees’ years of service to the new company and that the sale will conclude by March 2011.”

Immediately we informed you that “the employees are not up for sale and that Chevron has no authority to unilaterally transfer the years of service of the employees to anyone.”

The company’s blatant disregard for the rights of the employees despite our objection is not countenanced by the Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union. We also wish to advise you that “it is not only powerful Chevron which has rights, but rights are also the fundamental entitlement of the employees of Antigua & Barbuda and severance pay must be paid to all employees before any new company takes charge.” We do not wish to have any serious industrial dispute with Chevron and we ask for a meeting on or about December 28, 2010 to settle the above question.

The meeting was held on January 3, but powerful Chevron had nothing to do with the wish of its workers. At this meeting, the company’s representative, Stanley Nicholls, in the most arrogant fashion, told the workers and their representative, “those who don’t want to work can resign.” Immediately following his outburst, the union issued notice of industrial action against Chevron.

In 1983, the Industrial Court of Antigua & Barbuda quite rightfully anticipated employers’ state of mind that would hold that same view of Chevron’s Stanley Nicholls. The Court objected to that kind of thinking and stated that if such views were held, employees in similar position would be faced with this position: “you had better work for my successor employer whether you like it or not or else you lose everything”…see Ref No 1 of 1983 Industrial Court.

Several meetings were held with representatives of the union, of Chevron and of the government. Meetings held before the Minister of Labour Dr Errol Cort were joined by top representatives of Chevron through tele-conference calls. They purportedly identified themselves as Pat Moore, Juilio Martinez and Andria Voldorana. Pat Moore was the lead speaker.

During the discussion, the employers’ side was exceedingly negative. Minister Cort asked if money was the problem. Moore hastily replied, “Money is not an issue; an Antiguan lawyer advised Chevron not to pay.” The name of the lawyer was not disclosed at the meeting. The voice went on to say, “Chevron is not sold.”

The employers representative made this statement despite the fact that they made a press release on November 19 2010 which states, among other things “Rubis has signed an agreement with Chevron to purchase its fuel distribution business which currently operates under the Texaco brand in the Caribbean and Central America … 9 countries form the arc of the Eastern Caribbean which includes Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St Kitts, St Vincent, Grenada, St Lucia and Guyana …”

Sale and change of industries are not new to Antigua & Barbuda. Dr Cort informed the company’s representatives and those of the teleconference that not to pay severance pay under the circumstances is not good industrial relations in Antigua & Barbuda. A voice purported to be that of Pat Moore repeated, “Chevron is not sold.”

This statement brought stern rebuff from every person who heard it.

The minister then referred the teleconference to Reference No 1 of 1983 of the Industrial Court of Antigua & Barbuda of a case that is similar to the instant case where the employer Tommy Joseph, a contractor, was represented by lawyer John Fuller and the employees by Winston Baldwin Spencer then assistant general secretary of the Antigua and Barbuda Workers’ Union – now prime minister of Antigua & Barbuda and lawyer Justin Simon.

The judgment stated, among other things … “Mr Fuller, the company’s lawyer, argued that the court’s hand is shackled … He further submitted that the only obligation the employer who was going out of business had, was to offer new employment, and it mattered not whether the employees accept it. The employer had discharged his duty and that was the end of the matter. In the instant case, his client had offered employment to the workers and their refusal of it destroyed any right to receive severance pay.”

Simon, counsel for the employees, now attorney general of Antigua & Barbuda, was of a contrary view. He found support for his argument from the provision of Section C43 of the Labour Code which reads:

“Every employee whose term of employment with an employer and his predecessors has in aggregate exceeded one year, is entitled to severance pay upon termination of said employment by employer for reasons of redundancy.”

He further submitted that no refusal on the part of the employees could destroy that entitlement. The right, he said, was not qualified, abrogated or taken away, by any section in the act. He said that Sections C45, C46, C47 had to do with time and method of payment.

He further submitted that the provision (Section C47 of the Labour Code) by itself made no sense and it could not have been the intention of Parliament to give the employees a right or entitlement in one hand and then take it away in another.

Simon quoted from Section 82 of the Employment Consolidated Act 1978 of Great Britain which, he said, was instructive on the point. The section, he continued, clearly and unequivocally takes away the right to severance pay in certain situations. That was clear and unambiguous. If Parliament had meant to take away that right, it would have similarly done so in clear and unambiguous terms.

The Industrial Court, comprising of Henry SR Moe, president; Radford W Hill, chairman; and James H Carrott, member, stated, “We are persuaded to accept Mr Simon’s interpretation of the Section as, like him, we feel there must be implied, in any attempt to construe the meaning of the section, an acceptance of the employer’s offer on the part of the employee. If that were not so, the result would be that each employee in a similar position would be faced with this position: you had better work for my successor-employer whether you like it or not, or else you lose everything.”

The Honourable Court continued, “That kind of ultimatum would go against the fundamental principal of freedom and voluntarism upon which employer/employee relationship is based and could never have been the intention of the legislature. It would mean that the system of voluntarism would be replaced by compulsion and coercion.”

Perhaps the representatives of Chevron are thinking of the pre-Independence era; by this we mean being a colony, under colonial rule where it seemed as though only the multi-national companies and the roving profiteers had rights. But Antigua & Barbuda is now an independent country, where its institutions/industries are governed by an industrial court and good industrial relations practices.

The refusal by Chevron to provide severance pay to its workers despite the ruling of the Industrial Court on a similar matter must be viewed by all and sundry as exceedingly contemptuous. It is the only company since Statehood in 1967 to be refusing to provide severance pay under the circumstances and also not to sit with the bargaining agent to discuss the way forward.

The unreasonable position must be the concern of all workers in Antigua & Barbuda, including future ones. If Chevron is allowed to get its way, the roving profiteers and others will be able to take advantage of workers and for sure, certain lawyers will assist them in running away with workers’ hard-earned money, garnered by their sweat and toil.

The working people of Antigua & Barbuda lub dem money and no employer must be given that right that Chevron wants to deny them. Workers should, at all times, defend resolutely what is rightfully theirs.

Lists of some companies that changed hands and paid off workers over the years are Antigua Sugar Factory Ltd, Antigua Syndicate Estates Ltd, Antigua Beach Hotel, Horizon Hotel, West Indies Oil, Jolly Beach Hotel, Half Moon Bay Hotel, Anchorage Beach Hotel, Royal Antiguan Hotel, LIAT (1974) Ltd, among others.

Chevron West Indies Ltd has decided to ignore all the laws, customs and good industrial relations practices that has governed Antigua & Barbuda for over half a century. The working people of the country and the wider Caribbean should never allow their gains and pride to slip away. It is incumbent on all workers to stand behind our Texaco/Chevron brothers and sisters.

The Antigua & Barbuda Workers’ Union is committed to doing what is necessary to secure what is just and fair for them.
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