Barbadians were told today to brace for a possible shutdown of the country, which could come as early as next week, as the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) steps up pressure on the Barbados Investment and Industrial Corporation (BIDC) to rescind termination letters it issued last week that forced 13 employees over the age of 60 into retirement.
A tough-talking acting General Secretary Roslyn Smith issued a clear warning this afternoon that the NUPW will embark on “serious” industrial action if the statutory corporation did not withdraw the termination letters by next Tuesday.
Smith spoke to reporters after the NUPW held a two-hour meeting with workers from all statutory boards at its Dalkeith, St Michael headquarters. She said she would be recommending to the National Council meeting next Tuesday that it approves industrial action, including a national shutdown.
“ . . . We are still giving the BIDC management time to reflect and withdraw the letters, or they would have to pay the workers as if they are retiring at 67. They are the two options. Failing that, . . . we will await council’s decision and we will move from there but we have not ruled out a shutdown of the country,” Smith said.
The NUPW is contending that the Human Resources Department of BIDC seemed unaware that the Pensions Act had been amended to allow employees of statutory boards to work up until age 67. In light of this amendment, Smith said the BIDC would have to pay out the 13 terminated employees as though they had reached age 67 if it decides against withdrawing the letters.
The union leader cautioned that if this matter was not nipped in the bud, “you will find that you would have more workers unemployed than employed”. She contended that workers had legitimate expectations to work until they chose to retire, whether at 65, 66 or 67.
Flanked by NUPW President Akanni McDowall and acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond, Smith told reporters her recommendations to the National Council would definitely call for major industrial action.
“We will recommend that if BIDC fails to change their decision, then the only option that we will have is to embark on serious industrial action and I said ‘serious’ underscored. We will not be going backwards, we are going forward,” she made clear.
Smith said the hundreds of statutory board workers who attended the two-hour meeting, had made it clear that enough was enough and they would no longer be tolerating “this type of treatment” from Government any more.
“And we support them and they support themselves,” she added.
Smith also announced that the union was backing the BIDC workers in a separate civil action they were bringing against the corporation by hiring an attorney-at-law to file a court injunction to stop the terminations from going into effect.
“The workers have engaged legal aid and we are fighting it on both fronts. From the legal side and the industrial relations side,” she stated, with McDowall clarifying that the union had not contacted any lawyer, but that it was a group of employees who had done so on their own.
Smith said the meeting today was called to update workers at all statutory boards on the dismissal of the 13 colleagues based on their age.
“We wanted to update them because we recognize that workers are so busy sometimes doing their activities that they fail to look at the terms and conditions or the legislation that govern them,” she said.
“We were happy with the turn-out here this morning. We had a full house and the information and the discussions here this morning were well received, because they were not au fait with the legislation and the changes to the Act.”
Smith said it also emerged that persons within the HR sections of statutory boards, as well as those who should know about the legislation, were not aware.
“And that made it more difficult and workers are saying they need to be educated going forward on the ramifications of this change with the Pensions Act.”
Smith went on: “We asked and . . . we had a 99.9 [per cent] support here this morning, for any action going forward and it comes at a good time, because we are having our council meeting on Tuesday and we will be updating the council on this matter. So going forward, you will know after Tuesday the union’s intention as it relates to the BIDC issue.”
In a statement issued late last week, BIDC said it would not be backing off from its decision to terminate the workers who had reached age 60. BIDC said it had undertaken a review of its operations and concluded that a more potent strategy and a sharper focus were required if it was to maximize its value, and make a significant change in the corporation’s functions and efforts to increase its contribution to the economic development of Barbados.
“We have therefore undertaken to refresh our operational design for greater efficiency and sustainability through more streamlined operations. Change is never easy. But the time has come to move the BIDC forward aggressively with increased focus and accountability,” the statement added.
The statement said the decision to send home the 13 employees came after the BIDC Board of Directors made a decision to invoke its right under Section 8 of the Statutory Boards (Pensions) Act Cap. 384 to retire officers who would have reached the age of 60 years.