Boasting that it has well over 25,000 members, the powerful Barbados Workers Union (BWU) this afternoon threatened to call out its full armoury in support of over 500 disgruntled employers at the state-run Barbados Water Authority (BWA), who walked off the job earlier this morning.
The unionized workers were expected to remain off the job tomorrow for a second straight day to press their demands for urgent settlement of number of outstanding issues, including pay.
Speaking at a Press conference at the BWU’s Solidarity House headquarters, general secretary Sir Roy Trotman accused
management of the BWA of treating the workers with gross disrespect. And he warned that if their concerns were not
addressed soon, protest action against the BWA would intensify, and that the union would call out its full troops, if necessary.
“The understanding is that initially the Water Authority will be the foremost part of the union that will be engaged in the exercise and that troops of the BWU or divisions might be deployed as the occasion may demand –– and that is to use our full membership.
“I would like to remind the public that it is not, as some officials in some of the ministries have told the ILO [International Labour Organization], it is not 10 000. We start with 25.,000, and [if] we take those occasional members who will be able to join in the exercise, the number will be much larger than anybody might think of, if it needs to come to that,” Sir Roy said.
The union boss also sought to explain what had triggered today’s strike, revealing that a letter was sent to the BWA earlier this month indicating that there were some matters still outstanding that needed to be addressed. Before that, another letter had been sent giving an October deadline, but Sir Roy said nothing happened.
“Specific reference was made [in the letter] to some of those issues, and they [the workers] had expected six months would have been used during which the BWA should have had a discussion with the BWU on or before the date that we considered to be critical, and it was our view that by the 15th of October, those discussions would have been set off and brought to a conclusion.”
He stressed that no concrete action had been taken by management of the authority, even though “that matter became so serious that the Prime Minister of the country publicly indicated that he was going to assume responsibility for the said BWA to get some of those issues out of the way and to block any log jams that there were”.
He said the union had sought to have a meeting towards the end of October and it was only then that the authority sought to treat the workers’ concerns with any level of seriousness.
“. . . They sent messages, encrypted messages, where they suggested that if we gave them more time they would be able to resolve some of the issues before us, particularly the very vexing issue of increments,” Sir Roy said.
“On the 6th of November we therefore advised them that we had given them enough time, but even then we were still ready to give them another two weeks and that by the 20th of November [yesterday’s date] by four in the afternoon, they ought to be ready to submit a proposal regarding how we were going to resolve the outstanding issues,” he explained.
Efforts to reach top BWA officials for comment today proved futile.
However, Sir Roy said in fairness to the authority it had replied to the BWU by 25 minutes to three yesterday, the day of the deadline, but “the letter is a letter that says nothing”.
“We had told the Barbados Water Authority that that deadline would not be followed by another warning. The [BWU general ] council met last night and they endorsed the position that [this was] the only way that we were going to start seeing any level of adequate respect and any attempt being made by the Water Authority to deal seriously with the issues.
“The BWA has been playing games, in our view, for year now . . . . No further warning was given because they were advised that there would not be any further [warning of action],” he said, stressing that the union would go the distance until the authority was ready to “respect us, to respect the workforce and to deal with the issues that we have”.