Tensions ran high and police had to be called in as the bitter impasse between management of the Barbados Community College (BCC) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) escalated this morning.
Just after 11 a.m, a visibly upset NUPW general secretary Dennis Clarke exchanged sharp words with management of the Howell’s Cross Road, St Michael institution after he turned up for a scheduled meeting with union members and was initially denied entry to the compound by guards.
Clarke then parked his Audi vehicle on the outside and walked into a meeting which principal Gladstone Best was holding with staff in the Liberal Arts Auditorium to reportedly discuss industrial matters, health and safety issues, and general concerns.
“The workers since yesterday agreed that I should come and see them today,” Clarke told the media outside the gate.
“This is a public place. Yesterday, I avoided any confrontation with him [the principal] and therefore I went up, parked my car and I came back down here and I spoke to the workers. I am not doing that today when he is wrong,” Clarke said, while stressing that “the NUPW is a bonefide trade union and the fact of the matter is that we want to meet with our members to discuss a matter that the board is completely ignoring”.
In the meantime, a very composed-looking Best sat quietly with a microphone nestled in his hand, listening to an angry Clarke who informed the principal that he had a right to meet with his members at the college since it was a public space. Clarke also said he had informed the principal of the union’s meeting.
After listening for sometime, Best told the members of staff, who were assembled in the hall, that they were dismissed. With that, some got up and went back to their classrooms, while others converged outside the auditorium where they were addressed by Clarke, NUPW president Walter Maloney and deputy chairperson of the NUPW/BCC Shop Stewards Council, Margo Bannister.
The NUPW general secretary said he intended to write the principal later in the day indicating he would be coming back tomorrow.
“I am coming when the sun is a little cooler. I am coming at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow. We going meet every day until we get somebody to the table to sit down and discuss these matters,” Clarke warned.
Meanwhile, Bannister stated it was time Best stood in solidarity with workers.
“If management could bar them [NUPW officials] from coming in here, by extension they are telling us that we don’t have a right by association to join any union to come and represent our interests. So if staff want to live under apartheid, communism or whatever system, I will not be a part of that.
“And I think that it is time, that we either call for Dr Best to come and stay with us, stand for something, or go with the board,” Bannister shouted.
Maloney noted that last night the NUPW had held a council meeting and it was decided that Clarke, who is due to proceed on pre-retirement leave tomorrow, would remain with the BCC matter until it was resolved.
However, the BCC principal is contending that the college’s management is still waiting on the NUPW to respond to its request to negotiate.
In a paid release published in this evening’s Barbados TODAY, Best said the BCC had written to the NUPW requesting a meeting to discuss a number of outstanding matters, including cost-cutting measures.
“BCC was requested by the Ministry of the Civil Service to reduce the number of posts at the college by 75. To date, BCC has not received a response from the NUPW and awaits its response to meet with the management of BCC to resolve these matters within the established framework set out for collective bargaining in this country.”
Dr Best also responded to the NUPW’s claims that union officials were prevented from meeting in the BCC auditorium yesterday, describing them as “false”.
“On Tuesday, 28 October, 2014, BCC received a letter from the NUPW requesting permission to meet with staff in the auditorium on Wednesday, October 29, 2014, at 9:30 a.m. Since the college was closed on Monday, 27 October, 2014, due to bad weather being experienced in Barbados, the college informed the NUPW that it was in the best interest of the students not to disrupt the college for a 9:30 am meeting, but gave the NUPW permission to hold the meeting at 3:30 p.m. on the same day,” he explained.
“This was communicated to the NUPW by the principal. Mr Clarke’s statement that they were locked out of the auditorium is therefore false.”
The BCC head also questioned the union’s claim that it represented part-time staff at the college.
“The NUPW . . . has not provided BCC with any certification to validate its claim,” pointed out the college principal.