A Government minister today chastised the leadership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) for raising objections to the new Shops Act 2015 whilst, at the same time, acknowledging ignorance of the details of the legislation.
Passed in the House of Assembly on Tuesday night, the new legislation provides for longer opening hours for retail businesses which previously operated from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The measure supports the plan to make Barbados a 24-hour society.
Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss, took NUPW President Akanni McDowall to task over the matter in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
“Where has he been living when the State was engaging the unions and private sector since 2005 on these issues? Where was he when the Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament and debated in the Senate?” Inniss asked.
He went on: “Where was he and the NUPW when the union representatives in the Senate spoke in support of the Bill? Has the leadership of the NUPW even taken time to read the Bill? It does not seem that way.”
Following passage of the Bill, McDowall told Barbados TODAY he wanted Inniss to sit with the NUPW and discuss workers’ concerns about the measure since the union was in the dark regarding details of the new legislation.
Under the new legislation, shops are allowed to open for business between the hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays to Sundays and to open on most public holidays, except Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Independence Day and Christmas. The legislation also addressed issues of health and safety.
Inniss suggested to the NUPW leadership that it should have a conversation with the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) since that union, which represents the majority of workers in the private sector, “has taken a more mature approach to these matters”.
The BWU in the past welcomed the move towards a 24-hour society but asked that concerns related to safety and security first be addressed.
Describing McDowall’s acknowledged ignorance of the bill as “simply amazing”, Inniss further asked: “Is the NUPW objecting to expanded job opportunities for Bajans? Do they object to a law that says that workers must have proper lavatory facilities, drinking water, lunchrooms, seats, ventilation and general comfortable work environment? Is the NUPW objecting to a law that requires adequate safety and transportation for workers?”
Inniss reminded McDowall that many NUPW members in the public sector have been working in a 24/7 environment “for many decades”, including Immigration, Customs and health care workers.
“I am sorry, Mr. President of the NUPW, but Barbados just has to progress into the 21st century and beyond, not sit in a 19th century mode,” Inniss said.
The minister extended an invitation to the NUPW, nevertheless, to meet with him “anytime and anywhere” so he could “engage with them on these issues”. “Bring members, not just a handful of handpicked executives,” he urged the union. (MM)