After seven hours of intense negotiations, progress was reported today in the bitter pay dispute between the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and Grantley Adams International Airport Inc (GAIA).
A smiling Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo, who chaired the talks at the Warrens Office Complex, emerged from behind closed doors at the head of her team and told waiting journalists that agreement had been reached in a number of contentious areas.
However, Byer-Suckoo did not provide details, revealing that another meeting had been planned for Friday, March l1 at 2 p.m. at which they would seek complete resolution to the dispute over the union’s demand for a 3.5 per cent salary increase for airport workers dating back to 2011.
“The good news is that we have agreed that this matter bears further consideration and that there is scope for us to re-examine and continue discussions. So that is the good news. We are going to come back to the table to continue discussions. To my mind that is good news,” she said, adding that she would describe this as progress because the parties had spent the day essentially examining the fundamental areas of concern.
“We’ve heard that it boiled down to a wage increase. But before we even got to that, there were some issues we spent the day examining and we have made some progress in that regard. So we are now onto the next phase of the discussions. You would forgive me if I don’t go into the details of what we have agreed to thus far. I can only tell you that we agreed to come back to the table and examine the matter,” the Minister said.
Her delegation included Chief Labour Officer Vincent Burnett and Senior Industrial Relations Officer Wayne Sobers.
She expressed optimism that a settlement would be reached on Friday.
“I hope at that time there will be better news. I am always optimistic. I am a child of God,” Byer-Suckoo stated.
The minister said the despite the fact that the matter was a contentious one, today’s meeting was cordial, stressing that all sides demonstrated a commitment to resolve the dispute.
“Everyone has agreed that we are looking for an amicable resolution. That in itself says a lot for our industrial relations. We are dealing with new people in the NUPW, but I am pleased to say at this juncture we are still looking for amicable resolutions to matters and long may that continue,” Byer-Suckoo said.
GAIA had said previously that it would not negotiate but would only listen, since it was convinced that it did not owe the workers the disputed pay rise. Asked whether this position had changed, the minister would only say the airport authority was still at the table.
In a terse comment afterwards, NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith, whose delegation included President Akanni McDowall and Treasurer Asokore Beckles, said the union was still sticking to its demand that the workers were owed the 3.5 per cent hike and must be paid.
Last Thursday, the union’s decision-making body, the National Council, instructed its leadership to suspend any further planned industrial action and meet instead with the minister today.
Union sources had told Barbados TODAY that the bargaining unit for the airport staff had planned to call out its members at the two ports of entry and if there was no satisfactory response from GAIA, the action would intensify.
The two sides are battling over the interpretation of an accord reached at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart in December 2010.
GAIA contends that the 3.5 per cent rise for 2011 had been taken off the table altogether, while the union has insisted that there was a moratorium and the increase ought to have been back on the table if the economy had improved by the middle of 2011.
The union also claims it has proof that the economy had improved, therefore, the workers must be paid.