AWU agrees on overall 14% wage increase for members at Bermudez Biscuit Company

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Industrial Court, on St Vincent Street, Port of Spain. File photo/Jeff K Mayers

A week after five unions had their negotiations brought before the Industrial Court after a breakdown, the Amalgamated Workers Union (AWU) has signed off on a 14 per cent wage increase for two periods.

At the Ministry of Labour, Duke Street, Port of Spain, on Tuesday, AWU officials signed an agreement with Bermudez Biscuit Company, a subsidiary of the Bermudez Group Ltd.

The group comprises Kiss Baking Company, Bermudez, Holiday Foods, Wibisco, Excelsior and Soldanza.

The settlement is for two three-year bargaining periods, 2018-2021 and 2021-2024. The first period was settled for eight per cent and the second for six per cent.

While the agreement is for the Bermudez Biscuit Company, only daily, weekly and hourly paid workers will benefit from the agreement, as they are unionised. Those affected include warehouse attendants, sanitation workers and machine operators totalling between 250 and 300 employees.

The union, which agreed to the government’s four per cent wage increase for sanitation workers at the Port of Spain City Corporation in August for the period 2014-2016 and 2017-2019, was chastised by other unions for accepting what they considered a low offer.

That four per cent rejection caused Finance Minister Colm Imbert to refer the negotiations to the Industrial Court. The five unions before the court are: Fire Service Association, Prison Officers Association, Police Social and Welfare Association , Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) and the National Union of Government & Federated Workers (NUGFW).

Asked about this at Tuesday’s signing, general secretary for the AWU Cassandra Tommy-Dabreo said the signing is a win for the union, although it is far less than for previous periods. For the period 2025-2018 the union agreed to a 15 per cent wage increase and the previous period was 19 per cent.

“How I feel about it? It is a plus for me, and I would personalise it, aAs a female general secretary in the trade union movement that is dominated by male,and especially tall strapping males.

“So the fact of the matter is, it is a plus. Yes, we would have wanted more, but I will take from my comrade that we still have the glass, and we still have the glass on hand and going forward, we will always want the glass to be filled.”

While workers expressed disappointment in the continued drop from 19 to six per cent in a bargaining period, Tommy-Dabreo said they understood the economic times facing the country and accepted the overall 14 per cent.

The union submitted a proposal for the return of cost of living allowances (COLA), profit sharing and heat allowances, but those were not agreed to.

Group industrial relations manager Hashim Al-Mujaahid said the agreement was to bring the biscuit company in alignment with the other companies regarding salaries. He said the increased salary and backpay will be paid to employees on or before the end of the year and will not be part of the company’s Christmas bonus, if the companies decided to grant them.

Asked about the settlement for the other companies, Al-Mujaahid said he did not want to pre-empt any ongoing or future discussions and therefore did not want to comment. He emphasised that the reason the settlement was arrived at was to putthe biscuit company on par with the other companies. He said there is a thrust to give annual increases to the workers not represented by a bargaining union.

“If you look at the spread over the six-year period, most of the employees throughout the group would have gotten, from 2018 to now, an 11 per cent increase.

“So let’s just say somebody found that Bermudez get plenty. When they do the maths, they will realize that they actually got more than Bermudez as of today’s date.

“So usually, that’s how we try to make sure there’s equity across the board, that everybody wouldn’t get the same thing. The standard of the group is to make sure that there’s equity.”

He said the three per cent difference must not be viewed in a vacuum, as the pandemic and the cost of wheat increasing globally also factored into the decision to settle on the amount.

Both the union and Al-Mujaahid thanked Bridget Ignatius, senior conciliator at the Conciliation, Advisory and Advocacy Division at the Ministry of Labour, for assisting in settling the negotiations, which broke down after they began in 2018.

The union said its position moved from 40 to 23 per cent before negotiations broke down and the company moved from zero to four per cent for the first bargaining period.

Negotiations resumed in June through conciliation.