Traffic came to a temporary halt and workers came out of their offices to observe, while others shouted their support from the sidelines as the leadership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) led around 125 people in a march through Bridgetown this morning.
And while she was “pleased” with the turnout, the NUPW boss Roslyn Smith charged that others who wanted to come out stayed away because some employers, and work colleagues, used intimidation tactics.
The fact that the demonstrations represented a minute fraction of the close to 3,000 workers who were sent home by Government last year did not appear to dampen the spirits of those in attendance.
Throughout the estimated 90-minute march that began and ended at Queen’s Park, the placard-bearing demonstrators sang uplifting songs, including We Shall Overcome.
They also loudly called for the resignation of Government ministers, including Minister of Environment Dr Denis Lowe.
“Lowe must go! Lowe must go!” they chanted, paying no heed to intermittent rainfall.
The demonstration, watched closely by several police officers, was staged to hammer home frustration over the Government’s failure to address outstanding matters relating to dismissed workers at the National Conservation Commission (NCC) and the inability of the Employment Rights Tribunal to begin hearings nine months after the retrenchment.
Smith sent a message to those who had threatened other workers who wanted to join the march, that their actions would not be taken lightly.
“Those persons who wanted to be here [but] who were threatened by other coworkers or management . . . we will address that when the situation comes because if anyone is being victimized they will feel the real might of the NUPW,” she said at the end of the march, prompting loud cheers.
“Persons have a right to march, to protest, and if the Government is doing what is right we would not have to be here in the first place.”
Smith vowed that the NUPW would neither be retreating nor be intimidated by anyone.
While rallying workers to “stand up and fight for what is right”, she said the union also had its eyes on some other matters.
“There are a number of issues in the public service outside of this issue here with the NCC workers and the Beautify Barbados workers. There is a dire need for appointment of workers in the public service and we are not going to allow the Government to allow people to go out of the service without their dues in terms of appointments,” the top union official declared.
“We are looking to get those young workers who have been in there for five and 10 years appointed. If you want this economy to turn around, you have to empower persons to spend. Persons are not going to spend when they are temporary because the lending agencies are not going to acknowledge them. And if we want to see real growth, start here with these workers.”
Meantime, union president Walter Maloney said today’s march showed that solidarity was still alive and well in Barbados.
“Any injustice to a worker is certainly an injustice to all workers and this march this morning showed that once you touch me, then you touch you and you touch everyone of us,” he said, insisting that the march had achieved the desired results.
“I’m certain that the powers that be would have listened. They would have seen on television and in the newspaper, they would have heard the chants from the brothers and sisters . . . I certainly think that persons will listen.”
Concerned that more than half of the workers who were laid off by Government last year were females, the public relations officer of the Barbados Labour Party’s League of Women marched in solidarity with the NUPW.
“We are a country that has mainly single-headed households so when you send the women home, you put the family out of a place to live,” Marsha Hinds-Layne told Barbados TODAY.
“We think that this issue is very important socially from that point of view and it pains us that somebody is not paying more attention to the social issues that are coming out of this.”
Hinds-Layne said she was “very concerned” with the type of support being given to single-parent households, warning that “if the children and the family are destabilized by that, that also destabilizes Barbados.”
“At the end of the day it’s one thing for the economy of a country to fail and another thing for that failure to result in social instability, because money will fix economic problems but when you get social fall out sometimes that takes 10, 20, 30 years to come back from,” she added.