The Barbados Water Authority (BWA) says it is still unclear about the reason behind last week’s abrupt strike action by over 500 of its employees.
In a statement last night, Management of the BWA apologised to members of the public who may be experiencing disruptions in the midst of the protest action, which continued into the weekend. Management also said it was still open to discussions with the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) in a bid to resolve the current impasse.
The union called out its members at the BWA on Thursday, while accusing the Authority’s management of treating them with gross disrespect and of failing to address a litany of grievances, including outstanding pay.
Up to Friday, union boss Sir Roy Trotman was adamant that the workers should stand their ground and remain off the job. He complained that the BWA had been paying lip service to the workers’ concerns for far too long, while warning that the BWU would call out its full membership, numbering over 25,000, if it was forced to.
However, in breaking its silence on the strike, which enters day four on Sunday, the BWA said it had been meeting with the Union in good faith over the last several months to iron out the problems.
These range from personal grievances to more technical discussions on an Ionics mains laying programme, which is the BWA has described as critical to the expansion of the island’s water supply network.
It pointed out however that it was the Union, which had written to the Authority on April 24 this year, suggesting a revised list of priority items to be discussed from May 15, 2013 and concluded by October 15, 2013.
“This included the issue of increments. However, as a result of the failure to conclude the negotiations on the Ionics Mains Laying Project and the introduction of other matters on the agenda, the Ionics Mains Laying matter was referred to the Chief Labour Officer by the BWA on July 15, 2013.
“The BWA and BWU were therefore unable to discuss the matters raised in the April 24, 2013 letter because efforts are still being made to conclude the negotiations on mains laying and other matters,” the statement said.
“On November 6, 2013, the BWU wrote the BWA on the matter of presentation of a proposal on increments, stating the Union will extend your deadline until November 20 (Wednesday) at 4 p.m. and that they would recommend to the Executive Council that the Union, without further warning, take such action as the Union deems appropriate to vindicate the cause of their membership if the Authority continued its policy of refusing to treat,” it added.
The BWA said after receiving this notice from the Union, they started to “work on the proposal with a view to meeting the deadline set by the Union”. However, due to the complexity of the matter and the need to get approvals from the Board of Directors and the parent Ministry before such a proposal could be put to the Union, they wrote the BWU on November 20, advising them that a draft framework proposal had been prepared which was being finalised and assured them of the Authority’s commitment to submit a proposal and negotiate the details with them as soon as they had consulted with the relevant parties.
“The BWU did not acknowledge receipt of the letter from the BWA but without giving proper notice to the BWA has gone on strike. As an earnest to treat, the BWA responded to the Union’s letter of November 6, 2013 and has committed itself to submitting a proposal after the necessary consultations. The Authority can therefore not be accused of failing to treat with the Union.”
The Authority has apologised to customers for any disruptions as they seek to resolve the impasse with the Union.
The BWA also expressed the hope that the Union will keep its promise to the public that the water service will not be disrupted as stated in the Press. “We are conscious that any disruption of service can have very serious consequences and negatively impact the performance of critical sectors such as tourism, ind ustry and agriculture as well as the provision and delivery of social services,” the statement said.