APPEALS by the National Workers Union (NWU), over the years, to the respective government ministers for some form of social justice for former workers of Majestic Industries Limited have gone nowhere. Now the Union has gone all the way to the top, hoping that some form of positive action would emanate from there.
The Union’s Secretary General, Johann M Harewood, last week wrote to Prime Minister Allen Chastanet suggesting that the land owned by the company be sold and monies obtained from the sale utilized to pay workers who have yet to be compensated following the abrupt closure of the company in 2004.
The agony faced by the former workers has been perennial since the company ceased operations 15 years ago. Majestic Industries Ltd., a subsidiary owned by an American company, started operations in Saint Lucia in the very early seventies. Based in the Vide Bouteille area, the company at its height, employed 300 or so Saint Lucians all represented by the NWU.
The Union has been calling for some form of compensation to the former employees of Majestic Industries Ltd. for quite some time. When the United Workers Party administration took over the reins of government in 2016 that call did not cease.
Five months after being sworn into office Labour Minister Stephenson King was served with a petition signed by the former employees seeking his intervention in settling the matter of compensation. Nothing came out of that and so another letter was sent to King in February 2017 and another in October 2018 all calling on him to do something about the situation.
The Union has from the start maintained their perspective that property owned by Majestic Industries Ltd. in the Vide Boutielle area should be sold to obtain the funds needed to pay the workers their legal entitlements. Last year it was reported that one of the former employees of the company had passed away, with the matter still to be resolved.
On Thursday of last week, the NWU was at it again, calling on government to attend to this pressing matter of settling the legal entitlements of the former workers.
“I have been instructed to direct your attention to the following,” noted Harewood in his letter to Chastanet.
The letter spoke of the significant contribution the company made to the economic wellbeing of the employees and their families, how the workers were never laid off and how the company maintained its numerical staff complement of just over three hundred workers.
“Transportation to and from work was provided so minibus operators struck a very good deal with the company on the advice of the NWU. The company also constructed a building on its property that housed a small restaurant. The restaurant operator did good business. At the early stage of Majestic Industries operations, Mr Gregory Brathwaite was the General Manager. He treated the employees with a human touch. Things began to change after the end of his tenure of service,” Harewood’s letter to the prime minister stated.
The letter went on to state that in 2004 company officials from the USA informed the NWU that it would cease operations in Saint Lucia.
“We received only 72 hours notice, a scramble ensued. Workers were left stranded with notice, severance and weekly wages left unpaid. The Department of Labour at the time did very little. We wrote the Ambassador in the US Embassy in Bridgetown, Barbados. Unfortunately, they met with officials from the Department of Labour in Saint Lucia. We were left out,” Harewood wrote.
He continued, “It was clear that the industrial matter was placed in the deep freeze. Fortunately, the workers discovered that the former company owned a sizeable property in the same Vide Bouteille area. The former employees are determined to get their long overdue benefits and the NWU will continue to represent their interests. We have written three letters with a petition to Minister King on the matter but to date without any positive results.
“Sir, it is our view that the land owned by the former company should be sold and monies obtained from this sale should be utilized to pay compensation to the workers. We are requesting that you meet with a delegation comprising the Leadership of the NWU and four former employees of Majestic Industries Ltd. to decide on how to proceed. We look forward to a date from you for that engagement,” ended Harewood’s letter to Prime Minister Chastanet.
Efforts to get a statement from the Ministry of Labour have not been fruitful. Minister King is off island, expected back within three weeks’ time while several phone calls to the Labour Department yesterday went unanswered.