Category Archives: Labour Relations

Royal Shop Dispute – When Hotheads Prevail

 I normally patronize the Royal shop at least annually and have always found it to be a pleasant and satisfying experience.  From a customer perspective therefore, the Royal Shop appears to be very well managed, and despite the current dispute, I intend to patronize them again.

I believe that the Royal Shop dispute is instructive to other employers in Barbados.  My fellow employers have called for “cooler heads to prevail”, and I agree with them.

In the Royal Shop dispute, a group of employees reportedly withheld their labour over an issue.  The issue appeared to be the dismissal of a fellow employee.

Employers generally train their employees to act as a team and support each other.  Employees are also trained to support the company with their labour.  If an issue arises that forces employees to choose which training follow, knowing that to support an employee over the company could result in their dismissal, then that issue cannot be considered to be insignificant to them.

If the dispute is properly adjudicated, then the employees may be found to have acted reasonably or unreasonably.  If the employees are found to be right, then they should return to their jobs and be paid for their time off of work.  If they are found to be wrong, then they should return to work with no pay for their time off, and should work overtime or as required in order to mitigate any company losses.

If a group of my employees walked off the job for whatever reason, and refused to return that day, then what would I do?

Firstly, I would acknowledge that my well trained and faithful employees apparently believe that their grievance is so intolerable that they are willing to risk losing their jobs over it.

Secondly, I would acknowledge that emotionally charged environments are not normally conducive to making rational decisions, and would defer any drastic decisions until the morrow.

Thirdly, I would remind the striking employees of our agreed dispute resolution procedures and ask them to return to work while the issue is discussed with their representative.

Fourthly, if they do not return to work, and are too disruptive to the functioning of the company, then I would close the company to the public for the remainder of the day, and ask them to return to work tomorrow while I discuss the matter with their representative. I would also remind them that if they do not return to work tomorrow, then their employment may be terminated.  I would also schedule some internal company work for those employees not on strike.  I realize that this action is dependant upon the type of service offered.

I would explain to their representative that I expect that the issue will be properly adjudicated in accordance with our agreement, and that the employees must to return to work the following day or be terminated in accordance with their employment contract.  I will also explain that if the issue is adjudicated in the employees’ favour, then I would abide by the adjudicator’s ruling as agreed.  If the employees are found to have acted improperly, then the time off will either be treated as unpaid leave, or paid vacation time.  Further, the employees must work overtime as required in order to mitigate any company losses during the intervening period.

I will remind myself that I am dealing with adult human beings, not children, slaves, nor animals.  They are my brothers and sisters and should be treated accordingly, even when they are being disciplined.  Every person makes mistakes, and refusing to work in protest to a misconstrued grievance qualifies as one of them.

What we have done is to give each side a choice and a face saving opportunity.  The employers can schedule some internal work with the non-striking staff or prepare to bring in replacement staff.  Meanwhile, the striking staff can have some certainty about their employment status while they go home to “cool their heads”.  With “cooler heads”, they can contemplatively balance their commitment to the disputed issue with their personal interests.  They may well have a completely different attitude and level of commitment after speaking with their spouses and families.

Terminating the employment of a trained worker is a traumatic act, especially when there is an unresolved bitter dispute.  The reasons for such termination should therefore be agreed by both parties in their employment contract.  I would consider termination for things like theft, violence towards other employees or clients, hiding mistakes, or abandoning work for a specified period of time but not less than 24 hours. 

In the current dispute, “hot headed” emotions have resulted in hasty decisions, unnecessary fractured relationships and the union’s predictable response.  Cooler heads were not allowed to prevail, and drastic and hot headed action was taken by both sides.  The way forward in my opinion is for all decisions taken while “heads were hot” to be rescinded.  I would suggest the following.

  1. The Royal Shop should rescind their decision to terminate the workers’ employment.
  2. Those employees who wish to resign should do so with the appropriate settlement and without acrimony.
  3. Those employees who wish to remain should do whatever is necessary to repair the fractured relationships.  If they are unwilling to at least apologize, then they should agree to resign.
  4. The reasonableness and legitimacy of the employees’ and employer’s actions should be properly adjudicated.
  5. If the employers are adjudged to have acted correctly, then the employees should not be paid for their time off of work and the matter settled, otherwise, they should be paid and the matter settled.

The employer has legitimate concerns about loss of sales and damage to their reputation; however, those are the normal consequences of terminating employees without first trying to achieve an amicable reconciliation of the issue.  It is much better to give an employee the opportunity to resign quietly with some dignity, rather than be publicly terminated in a small island like Barbados.