Sources say at least 80% of the more than one hundred persons on the National Lotteries Authority payroll are prepared to take industrial action to have their issues addressed. The threatened sick-out was intended to run for the maximum 2 days employers are obligated to give to any employee without a doctor’s note. Or as long as it would take to have their immediate demand – to convene talks with senior NLA management – satisfied.

Employees at the National Lotteries Authority span several groupings. They include workers at the Victoria Park facilities, security personnel, janitors, collection officers/sales agents, general staff at its Kingstown headquarters and persons employed at local cable channel VC3 as well as others who are stationed at the sundry sport venues currently supervised by the Authority.

Reports reaching ANN are that the NLA staff population has become agitated since problems relating to their collective salaries and proposed pension plans are being ignored by the higher echelons of the Authority’s management.

One source alleged that the NLA has reneged on part of a 19 years old promise that was captioned in a 2001 staff manual that was distributed to some staff members. Under a caption ‘Staff Benefits’ the NLA committed to “make provisions to ensure the long term security and welfare of its employees through fringe benefits such as life and medical insurance and pension. Particulars on such benefits will be supplied by management and or the respective agents handling such matters.”

To date, the source acknowledged, “we’ve gotten the life insurance and medical insurance but no pension.” The source also pointed to calls made by the collection agents/sales reps – who are responsible for collecting the thousands of dollars spent daily on NLA games – to be awarded risk pay. The source explained that one senior manager was said to have asked “what crime?” when concerns about increasing crime activity – robberies at gunpoint to be precise – were raised as a rationale for awarding risk pay. The requested risk pay is not only meant to compensate for the nerve wrecking thoughts of potential robberies but also for potential travel hazards. The source cited, as further validation for the request, road conditions, particularly on the Leeward coast where embankments sometimes drop down treacherously steep inclines.

ANN understands that some employees have been on the payroll for over 2 decades “paying income tax, paying NIS and paying for living expenses but still can’t make $2000.00 per month yet.”

We were told that a series of letters sent to the Board of Directors headed by Murray Bullock, with support from Deputy Chair Allison Thomas and General Manager Mac Gregor Sealey, have all gone unacknowledged.

These letters were sent by Union boss Noel Jackson on behalf of the Authority’s unionized workers.

To better understand, cast back to last year when the National Workers Movement negotiated with the National Lotteries Authority. As Jackson tells it, “certain timelines were set and we asked for a reclassification of the workers where remuneration was concerned.” The NWM further advised the NLA’s Board “to solicit a professional and get [the reclassification exercise] done, but they insisted they have in-house expertise.” Jackson further told ANN “there are people who are trained to understand the science that goes into a ‘reclass.’ People who do this kind of thing everyday,” instead, it appears the NLA opted to delegate its accounting department to manage the task.

Also on the table is the matter of a proposed pension plan which, according to Jackson, was set to be implemented by July 2019, yet no strategy meetings were forthcoming.

Over the course of the intervening months Union correspondence continuously failed to arouse any response from the NLA Board. Though one of the three Union delegates was reportedly summoned to General Manager Sealey’s office, where he accused the Union’s delegates of spreading lies to the effect that the Board was trying to usurp the Union by going ahead with its own form of salary increase implementation.

One letter that ANN has seen was addressed to the GM and signed by the Union’s “Chief Negotiator” and reads “this letter serves as a sanction due to your company’s tardiness in relation to our request for a meeting to discuss and seek to conclude the following: (1) to review and establish salary scales based on the performance of the individual worker and to determine grades through factors including: positions, salary, experience, education, years of service etc. (2) The Union’s pension proposal that was agreed to during the Collective Barging process.

“Instead of meeting with the Union,” the letter continues, “the company has gone ahead and selected some workers for increases on criterion unknown to their colleagues and the Union. There has been no discussion with the Union on the way forward towards the establishment of the pension. There has been no discussion between the Union, the Company and the insurance company you choose. It seems as if the company’s attitude is to establish the principles on which the pension will be established and hand it down to the Union and its members. This approach is unwise and could consume your time, our time and that of the insurance company.

“We are very disappointed in the company’s approach to industrial relations and the interest of its employees, especially since it is a Quasi-Government institution. You have brought us to the point where we may be close to a public confrontation that could have negative consequences for the company and its officials.”

Jackson’s missive, which was dated January 9 2020, concluded with an invitation to meet with company representatives “before the 15th January, 2020” as he was scheduled to “be out of the country from the 15th January until 5th February 2020.”

This communiqué – carbon copied to the Labour Commissioner, the Minister of Labour, the National Labour Congress and the Prime Minister – was again ignored.

ANN understands that upon his return to St. Vincent, Jackson “informally” engaged with one Board Member who effectively told the veteran trade unionist that the proposed pensions were too high and as such would not be entertained. Jackson told us that he had occasion to warn the Board, through informal channels, “you all are playing with this matter and it will get serious and you won’t like it.”

The fact that top brass seemed to be intent on racking up frequent flyer miles was the most aggravating of all the insults inherent to NLA’s continued disregard. According to one source they, Sealey, Bullock and Thomas, were more often than not out of State.

Jackson confirmed “they left and went overseas without even replying to the letter.”

Since that January 9th letter and the subsequent silence following its delivery, two of the trio were said to have flown down to Trinidad and Tobago. A photograph posted on Facebook captured at least one of the men posing with Carnival Development Corp members. The Deputy Chair stayed in country this time.

“They gone Trinidad. We consider this to be disrespectful. We consider this to be an affront to workers,” Jackson said.

This further infuriated the delegates, the National Lotteries Authority unionized staff and the National Workers Movement Chief so a February 20 ultimatum was dispatched. Again it was addressed to Mac Gregor Sealey, Manager of the National Lotteries and was signed by Noel Jackson as the union’s General Secretary.

It read “It is with a great sense of disappointment that we are writing you again on issues that we committed ourselves to settle since June 2019, based on the outcome of our negotiation. We wrote to you as recent as January 9th 2020, encouraging you not to make the error we saw you were about to make.

“We have made numerous phone calls and even met you on the street and cautioned you on your tardiness in deal with the issue; we are now exhausted.

“At a meeting of employees of the National Lotteries Authority on Thursday 20th February 2020, a decision was made that if by the 24th February 2020, a meeting is not convened to settle the outstanding issues as outlined in our letter dated 9th January 2020, the union will lead its members into Industrial Action.

“We have sought to avoid this situation but your open disrespect and lack of any sense of protocol has aggravated this situation. Please be guided accordingly.”

As of 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon no representative from the NLA management team acknowledged that letter nor was any one management designate present to meet with the union as requested. ANN was reliably informed “since nobody turned up for the meeting we started a go slow from 2 p.m today. The staff is tired and fed up! They sponsor sports, culture and health all the time and we are the ones suffering.”

By 2:30 p.m. a staff meeting was convened with union delegates at the nearby National Workers Movement HQ in Paul’s Avenue. And the industrial actions were voted upon. It was at this meeting that the members opted to start a sick-out until the NLA management could be brought to the table.

But as fate would have it the top brass got wind of the developments even as staff was already committed to stay away from their jobs all day Wednesday and Thursday, if they were not granted the audience they wanted.

“10-15 minutes before you called me, Bullock called from Trinidad still trying to blame the insurance brokers,” Jackson told ANN. These insurance brokers were always being blamed for delaying the pension plan implementation process, Jackson had explained earlier in the exclusive interview.

This ‘leak’ may have sprung from any number of sources the Union boss opined. He admitted that he provoked his members to “take to social media” to publicize the entire sordid affair. “People always underestimate the importance of public opinion on issues like these. If the public is against you, you in trouble,” he said.

When Bullock called he was armed with a proposal to meet on Thursday no later than 10 a.m. which coincidently or not was the exact demand that the sickout was intending to highlight.

At that point Jackson told ANN “now we’re getting what we want. I’m not one for cancelling what we planned. We might just postpone it until after Thursday’s meeting… you don’t want to overplay yo hand.”

Since then a union meeting was convened via WhatsApp and his suggestion to postpone the industrial action carried.

Well placed sources say that the disgruntled employees would turn up for work as usual with further action pending the outcome of Thursday’s sitdown.

The Unity Labour Party government recently heralded the NLA as a highly valued jewel in their crown of achievements. Finance Minster Camillo Gonsalves, in response to a question raised in Parliament last January said “I wish to congratulate the management and leadership of the National Lotteries Authority for their phenomenal growth in recent years. We were hearing this announcement of a number close to 70 million dollars this year, last year was also a record revenue year for the lottery which was on the order of 60 million dollars and the year prior to that was also a record year so I wish to – and this is an entity that is well run, well managed and generally not interfered with by the Executive and I wish to congratulate the leadership for their wonderful work in making the National Lotteries Authority the power that it is today for sports, culture and education in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.”