Chanting “enough is enough” and “I want my money and I want it now”, just over 100 unionized workers at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) downed tools for close to three hours today as part of phase one of protest action in support of demands for outstanding pay.
Led by General Secretary Roslyn Smith and President Akanni McDowall of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the employees took to the airport’s car park to protest against management’s refusal to pay a 3.5 per cent salary increase.
Following this afternoon’s industrial action, which started at noon and finished just before 3 p.m., both McDowall and Smith promised that the worst was yet to come.
“We are not prepared to stop until workers are given their just due. This is the first step of many. We have another strategy after that, and after that strategy we have another one after that, and we are not going to stop until workers are paid,” the fired-up president told reporters an hour into the strike.
“I will be seeking a meeting with the management to see if we can get around the table to continue negotiations, and they will have to have their position in respect of the 3.5 [per cent pay rise], because if it is not on the table I will not be at the negotiations,” added Smith.
“And my thing is, I do not think that they will want to see my second strategy,” she warned.
Pressed to reveal what further action they had planned, both McDowall and Smith refused to give details and would only say that they wanted it “to come as a surprise to management”.
A visibly upset McDowall argued that GAIA had failed to adequately respond to the NUPW’s requests during Thursday’s 24-hour grace period.
He said while the airport continued to record profits, its management did not see the need to share any of its returns with the employees.
“Not to pay workers is an unjust act towards not only workers, but it is an unjust act to society. You cannot have people contributing to your profit margin and not rewarding them. It is not right! So any injustice done to workers, the trade union will stand up for it and today we are standing up for this injustice which has been done to the workers.
“We would have written to management asking them to pay outstanding monies to the workers and management has refused to pay. As a result we are out here today protesting, saying that they cannot refuse to pay and they have to pay the workers any outstanding money owed,” McDowall insisted.
Just after noon, the airport workers, with the exception of customs, immigration and air traffic control, assembled just outside the car park, armed with placards that read, “Pay us our money”, “Fair money for honest work” and “We want our money now”.
Several others watched from the balcony, while some sought shelter from the midday sun under the nearby palm trees.
Under the watchful eye of several police officers, they then circled the car park, led by McDowall, Smith, Treasurer Asokore Beckles and Acting Deputy General Secretary Delcia Burke, all joining hands.
Chants of “money, money, money, money” and “bring out the stash, cash or crash” could also be heard clearly during
Arriving and departing passengers, as well as those dropping off family and friends to check in for their flights, stopped and stared, many with surprise looks on their faces.
At the heart of the row are an agreement reached in 2010 between the NUPW and GAIA for a pay rise and the interpretation of correspondence from the union to GAIA’s chief executive officer David Barrow in January 2011.
In October 2010, the two sides agreed a four per cent pay rise for 2010 and a further 3.5 per cent increase for 2011 as part of a two-year collective agreement. However, a dispute arose after the then Minister of International Transport George Hudson advised that there would be no increases because of the state of the country’s economy at the time.
A compromise was reached at a meeting on December 28, 2010, chaired by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, in which they agreed to pay the four per cent for 2010 but forego the 2011 increase. The union wrote to GAIA on January 4, 2011 advising that its membership had endorsed the compromise.
It is that letter that the airport’s management quotes when it insists that it does not owe the workers the 3.5 per cent wage increase. However, the NUPW contends that it also indicated in that letter that it would revisit the freeze should the economy improve by mid-2011; and that the airport has reported profits over he past five years.
One of the most vocal workers during today’s protest, Marlene Chase, told Barbados TODAY that the employees rightly deserved the pay increase.
“We have worked long and hard and we are the backbone of Grantley Adams International Airport. If there are no workers the airport can’t run, because this airport does not run off robots. They do owe us that 3.5 per cent and we want it,”
said chase, who has worked in the engineering department for
“Let the CEO and them go and clean the bathrooms, cause they ain’t gine [do it]. Dem ain’t even cleaning theirs.”
Up to the time of publication there was no statement from GAIA but every indication was the strike had no effect on flights into or out of the country.
Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy told Barbados TODAY on Wednesday evening that he was willing to intervene to help resolve the dispute.
However, Smith said while she had heard of his comment, the union was yet to hear from the minister.