The stance assumed by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) on a 3.5 per cent pay rise for airport workers is nothing but a farce, one trade union leader has charged.
General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union (UWU) Caswell Franklyn has claimed that the NUPW’s dispute with Grantley Adams International Airport Inc (GAIA) was an attempt by the union to appear to be fighting for its members’ rights.
“This whole thing is a sham,” Franklyn told Barbados TODAY in an interview this evening. “It is designed to get NUPW membership and to retain membership because the people are leaving.”
The NUPW insists that GAIA owes airport workers the increase in wages agreed during negotiations in 2010, but airport authorities maintain that the pay rise was taken off the table at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in December 2010. The decision, GAIA asserts, was reiterated in a letter dated January 4, 2011 signed by then NUPW General Secretary Dennis Clarke.
GAIA yesterday said it was referring the matter to the Chief Labour Officer for resolution.
Franklyn told Barbados TODAY the NUPW did not have a leg on which to stand and GAIA’s decision would allow the union the opportunity for a graceful exit.
“While it is the GAIA who referred the matter, this is a way to give the union a position to climb down from, because the union has gone and put itself in a position that it cannot reasonably expect to prevail. This is just to score points for the workers.”
However, the UWU boss argued that the Chief Labour Officer had no authority to rule on the issue and could only act as a mediator.
“The Chief Labour Officer has no power to enforce an agreement, or to enforce a settlement rather, amongst parties. All he can do is to come in the room and sit down and let them talk and see if he can get them to come together; but that is something they can do among themselves. They don’t need a Chief Labour Officer for that,” Franklyn contended.
“This is not a situation where under the Employment Rights Act the Chief Labour Officer has the power to summon people. Basically they are asking the Chief Labour Officer to come in and sit down and help to guide the discussion.”
Still, he said he expected the two sides to reach a compromise, although he insisted that should the talks fail the NUPW, not GAIA, should pay the workers.
The longstanding trade unionist said the consultation with the senior public servants should have taken place before the union embarked on protest action.
“You do that before you strike,” he emphasized.
A scheduled 2 p.m. meeting today between airport workers and the NUPW did not materialize and has been postponed until Monday at 10 a.m.
NUPW President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY that although the matter had been referred to the Chief Labour Officer, the union’s stance on the matter had not changed.
He said next week’s meeting with the workers would be key in deciding the union’s next step.
“We understand that the matter has been placed before the Labour Department. The next step for us as the union is to meet with the workers on Monday so that we can give them an update about the new development,” he explained.
“The union’s position is still the same. We are adamant that the workers are owed the 3.5 per cent that was supposed to be given to them in 2011 and we have not changed our position. We have been able to show management all of the necessary evidence to prove that the workers are owed this money.”
McDowall said any further action would be determined at Monday’s meeting.
“We take our mandate from the members and they will determine what our next steps will be,” he said when asked if there was the possibility of further strike action at the airport.