Thomas, who participated in the 2nd May, 2011 Labour Day March, spoke exclusively with MiyVue.com and explained that the adage “there is strength in numbers” holds true relative to unions, noting that the more persons in the union, the greater the bargaining power of workers. He said bargaining power can only be achieved if at least 50 percent of the workforce is unionized.
“It’s very important that workers are represented at their work place and the power of management is so great compared with the power of single workers. And so if there is a problem, the worker is at a disadvantage… The union – which consists of a large number of persons – has the strength to negotiate with management to ensure that that worker receives justice for his/her complaints. The union also offers its solidarity for workers in trouble, they can also appeal to the officers of the union for assistance. In terms of support, that support is always there.”
President Thomas strengthened his view by further indicating that unions provide “a holistic service” for workers.
“Unions generally have other services which workers could benefit from. The St. Kitts Nevis and Trades and Labour Union, for example, we had operated child care centres which allow parents to have their children well taken care of which they go out to earn some really necessary monies. In terms of education, the Union mounts educational activities which are not restricted to just Labour education but can be extended to cover other aspects of living.
“The union provides a holistic service to the worker, not just representation at work, but a holistic service and this is why over the past years, the union had grown so strong because workers were disadvantaged to a considerable extent that it required union leaders to assist them in advancing and making life better for themselves.”
For years, the suggestion has been that the Union is a political organisation. Mr. Thomas, explained, however, that that is not so, although the organisations have been known to share leadership.
“Knowledge of the history of the labour movement in this country will indicate to you that the Trades and Labour Union and the St. Kitts Nevis Labour Party have grown up and have evolved hand in hand over the years. The early leaders of the party, themselves provided the services of a trade union during the days when the trade union was banned. So after the trade unions were made legal in 1939, they set about organising a proper trade union and gave birth to the St. Kitts Nevis Trades and Labour Union.
“In about 1946, the leadership of the Trade Union and the leadership of the Labour Party were united under Mr. Bradshaw and over the years, there has been that close relationship between the Union and the Party. In fact, also Mr. Moore was president of the Union as well as leader of the Labour Party. This changed under Dr. Douglas…but the core Trade Union members, the core activist Labour Party members. So we share leadership, we share common origin, we share common values. This Labour Day March is an example of that.”
Thomas said the Union faces a number of challenges including declining membership – because of the shift from the agriculture sector to the hospitality and manufacturing sectors – but he indicated that work is being done to address that.
“We are in fact targeting a number of these institutions, particularly the manufacturing sector and the hospitality sector, because that is where the bulk of the population is now finding employment. So are actually having membership drives trying to drum up membership but as I mentioned earlier, conditions are now so satisfactory that people are not moved to say let me protect myself, until a particular situation hits them individually…But we are trying our best, we need to keep trying to persuade people that it is best to join the union.”
Employees who join the St. Kitts Nevis Trades and Labour Union are required to pay a $7 membership fee plus a $2 per week subscription, prices which Thomas say, “are probably the lowest in the Caribbean…(and) when a worker pays that, considering the service it can draw upon, that is nuts change.