Investigating The Falklands' Trade Union History

In the present day, despite a diverse work force from all backgrounds and all rates of pay, there is little in the way of unions or union members in the Falklands. But the islands do have a past involving trade unionism. Charles investigated the history of the largest and only currently active union, the General Employees Union, and its evolution over the years.

The union was founded in 1943, as the Falklands Labour Federation, with entrepreneur and politician Jack Barnes being one of the first members, and a driving force behind its establishment. Times were hard, social inequality was widespread, and employees in both Stanley and Camp were looking for better pay and better conditions. At one point, nearly the entire workforce was a member of the union.

As a fairly moderate union, the only time the union got close to strike in Vice Chair MLA Short’s time, was negotiating benefits not for its own members, but for St Helenian workers brought into the Falklands after 1982. St Helenian workers were being housed on FIPASS, and were treated to poorer conditions than the local workers. Fortunately, the union did eventually come to an agreement with the government without having to resort to industrial action.

The Current Chair of the General Employees Union is Donald Betts. A civil servants’ union also existed for some time, but disappeared after the Hay Management Report of 1996. As the Falklands saw many changes after ‘82, unionism lost its prominence. The Hay Management Review of 1996 asked government workers to disregard the union in favour of better pensions and benefits. In camp, farming practices changed drastically as farms were divided up.

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