The excitement of some employees at J. Astaphan & Co. (1970) Ltd. following the establishment of a new labor union was short-lived. This, as the management of the company has said that it will not recognize the National Service Workers Union (NASWU) which was formed by a group of its employees.
In a recent press release, the public was made aware of the formation of NASWU following a vote by staff of the Roseau, Fond Cole and Canefield locations of J. Astaphan & Co. Ltd. on Thursday, 5th May, 2022.
According to the release, the group labeled their action a “historical groundbreaking move” for organized labour and collective bargaining in Dominica and added, “it was a surprise for the giant company that has fought unionization efforts over the years.”
The union is headed by Oksana Toulon as General Secretary was described as a young quiet, unassuming, but very conscious attendant in the Cosmetics Department of the company’s main establishment in Roseau.
“She is ably assisted by a competent group of young workers with young women taking the lead,” the release noted.
“Our activism at the company intensified when a memorandum was circulated to all staff at all locations mandating COVID-19 antigen testing for all unvaccinated employees at a cost which would be detrimental to the take home wages of concerned. Apart from that, we have several other grievances that are not being addressed adequately,” NASWU disclosed.
Some of their gripes include the absence of collective bargaining, meager wages, issues of occupational health and safety, workers retirement security and summary dismissals.
“After informing management of the establishment of the NASWU, we have written to the company requesting a moratorium on the COVID-19 Antigen Testing Policy to afford the Union the courtesy of a discussion on the matter,” the release further stated.
NASWU said they will strive to establish “professional, cordial and respectful” relations with their employer and pledge to be “exemplary, disciplined and dignified workers towards our employer as well as towards the public (customers) that we serve daily.”
Their motto, “WORKERS UNITE, MANYEN YONN MANYEN TOUT” (Touch one, touch all).
However, in response to the establishment of a union by employees, Managing Director of J. Astaphan & Co. Ltd., Genevieve M. Astaphan said management was not aware of the existence or legal registration of the NASWU.
“Further, management is unaware of any notice for or poll for recognition as a union at J. Astaphan & Co. Ltd. as required by the laws of the Commonwealth of Dominica,” the Managing Director told the General Secretary of the union in a letter dated May 11, 2022.
Astaphan added that the company does not have a collective labour agreement with the NASWU, nor is the newly established union recognized as the bargaining agent for their employees.
“We have been in communication with the Division of Labour, the Office of the Registrar of the High Court of justice, The Waterfront & Allied Workers’ Union, and the Dominica Employers’ Federation regarding the identity and authenticity of the National Service Workers Union,” Astaphan said. “These departments of Government and organizations, were unable to provide information on the National Service Workers Union’s identity or authenticity.”
Astaphan stated concludes in her letter, that in these circumstances, management of J Astaphan & Co. Ltd. “does not, and cannot recognize the National Service Workers Union or any of its authorized officers. Please be guided accordingly.”
Dominica News Online (DNO) was unsuccessful in its attempts to speak to the General Secretary of NASWU about their next course of action. We will, however, continue to follow this story.