Annoyed by the refusal of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) to withdraw termination letters issued to 13 of its employees over the age of 60 last Wednesday, this island’s largest public sector union is preparing to turn up the heat on the Freundel Stuart Government.
The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) has summoned all employees of statutory boards to a special meeting on Thursday.
President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY the union had already planned its response to the BIDC, but it intends to first inform its members about the serious implications of the state agency’s position.
“All we are asking as a union is that the BIDC withdraw the letters and return to the table to negotiate in light of the amendment that was made to the Employment Rights Act. They are refusing to do so, I don’t know why?
“I think the union has been more than responsible and more than fair in this situation and if the union is going to take action, which I suspect that we will, it will be well justified.”
The BIDC drew the union’s ire after it proceeded to sack the workers 24 hours before scheduled talks on the proposed termination of the 13.
McDowall insisted that the Corporation acted unlawfully on the grounds that it breached an amendment to the Employment Rights Act in 2004 that allows employees to work until age 67.
“The BIDC has refused to acknowledge that the amendment was made in 2004.
If they are going on the Act before it was amended it means it has far reaching implications for other statutory boards.
“So for example, other statutory boards could decide that they would ignore the 2004 amendment, which could mean that they would force persons within those boards to go home at the age of 60. So that is a big concern, not only does it have implications for BIDC, but it has implications for all of the statutory boards across Barbados,” he cautioned.
However, in its letter of termination issued to distressed workers, the BIDC maintained it was acting in accordance with a decision taken by the Board of Directors last month to proceed with the retrenchments.
“Reference is made to the meeting of May 27, 2014 where we communicated the Board of Directors’ decision which was made on May 20, 2015 to invoke its discretion under Section 8 (1) of the Statutory Boards (Pensions) Act, Cap 384 of the Laws of Barbados, by requiring officers in its service who have attained the age of 60 years, on or before August 31, 2015 to retire on the effective date of September 30, 2013.”
McDowall however insisted that the change in the retirement age from 60 to 67 was not a haphazard decision but one geared toward preserving the National Insurance Scheme.
“We have people living longer, therefore Government had asked that people be allowed to work longer to contribute to the NIS fund. We don’t have enough productive people to contribute to the NIS Fund, so they would have asked people based on the fact that they are living longer to contribute more to the fund and the only way you can do that is if people are employed as long as possible,” he explained.
The union said it was in the workers’ best interest to attend the meeting, which he noted would fully address the issue among other things.”
The meeting will bring all workers up to speed on all these issues.
“I would hope that the workers respond accordingly because they have to know, not only the persons who are over 60 years old, but the younger persons as well. If they do plan to stay in the organization a long time they will eventually reach 60 and they don’t want to be disadvantaged like that.”
Meanwhile, the union’s top brass held talks today to devise its next move. While he declined to say what action would be taken, McDowall assured that the NUPW was not making any idle threat.
“We have a set of strategies, we met today and I don’t want to give you the strategies because a good tactician usually keeps all his strategies close to his heart.
“I would have said before that this new executive has decided that we will take action wherever it is necessary and I can see that if they [BIDC] don’t move from their position, then they would definitely need some form of action from the NUPW.”
Meanwhile, another statutory body has also been getting the attention of the union.
Today, the NUPW met with the management at the Sanitation Service Authority after workers there raised concerns at talks on Saturday.
McDowall declined to reveal the issues, explaining that authority needed a fair chance to look into the matters raised.
“I spoke with one of the managers today and I am hoping that we can get a meeting with the board as soon as possible. The Sanitation Service Authority would have had some issues outstanding for a very long time and as a new executive we are hoping that we can get some of those issues resolved as soon as possible.
“I don’t want to go into the concerns yet, I want to give the board a chance to see what those concerns are and have those addressed,” he told Barbados TODAY.