Sometime last month, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne issued a warning stating that he will be firing any government legislator who chooses not to support a contentious piece of legislation while before Parliament. Taking up on his promise, Senator Wigley George who supposedly failed to follow through with his orders, was axed. The trade unionist received his letter of dismissal while he sat on the Senate on Tuesday.
When the Statutory Corporations General Provisions Bill was first debated on August 15, George was one of the appointed Senators among the Antigua Labour Party (ALP) who expressed disagreement. He pointed out his disapproval with Clause 7 which states that the Cabinet may, if it considers in the best interest of public administration, transfer an employee on secondment from one statutory corporation to another, or to the public service. Due to his concern with Clause 7, the Bill was sent back to the Lower House for review. At this time, Browne urged Senators to comply. George, who paid no attention to Browne’s demand, again signaled a sign of rejection when a motion to pass or reject the clause went before the House. His explanation was that he had no issue with government employees being relocated, but doing this without ones consent was something he could not support.
“The problem we have…is the fact that you can take someone from a corporation to a non-established position. The Lower fence of the House made a partial move by adding consultation [but] it is consultation without consent,” George shared in a report made by the Daily Observer newspaper.
The revocation of appointment letter George received, dated September 13 and signed by the Prime Minister, stated: “As you may recall, the Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda held consultations with the Government-appointed Senators regarding the division which took place in the Senate on the Statutory Corporations Bill. Your defiance in the face of the understanding reached leaves me no choice but to withdraw your appointment immediately.”
The decision to axe George, who is the President of the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) which is aligned to the ruling ALP, was shunned by this body along with the Antigua Barbuda Workers Union (ABWU). The support of the union towards the trade unionist was pledged by the ABWU deputy general secretary Chester Hughes.
“The Antigua and Barbuda Workers Union stands side by side with Wigley George on this issue, without reservation. We find it a victimizing act – an act we will not tolerate,” Hughes warned, adding, “It could well begin a spate of actions which the prime minister would regret in this country.”
The general secretary for the AT&LU, Hugh Joseph, said an executive meeting of the union is scheduled to occur where they will discuss decisions to be made on the next step.
“But I can tell you that the membership is already calling saying that we need to call out the workers,” he said.