The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is digging in for a lengthy battle over its demand for a 23 per cent pay increase, with the union insisting today it would not back down.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler said on Friday the union’s demand would cost the country $150 million, a figure he warned the country could not afford. The minister also sent out a grave warning that Government would likely be forced to take uncomfortable steps that would hurt public workers.
However, NUPW President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY this afternoon the union was sticking to its guns because its request was justified.
He said the figures were not plucked from the sky, but had come from “the best team possible” of economists.
“When I hear people say the figures are not possible I don’t know. We did this thing based on evidence and on as much facts as possible,” he said.
The union president added that Government’s decision to return parliamentarians’ salaries to the pre-2014 levels, when Members of Parliament took a ten per cent cut as part of the administration’s austerity programme, had further fuelled the union’s decision to ask for such an increase.
“This now has given us the impetus to go forward because we have said now that we have held strain too long . . . and it is really an insensitive thing for [Government] ministers to want to compensate themselves before they give the public servants of Barbados a salary increase. So we are going forward full speed ahead with asking for a salary increase for public servants,” McDowall pledged.
Asked to respond to claims by the private sector that the NUPW’s request was impractical and unaffordable at this time, McDowall simply said: “I don’t understand on what basis the private sector would have made the statement.
“All of the information that we would have provided to the ministry would have been based on evidence and we would have made sure we put together a team of economists to come up with those figures. It is based on facts and information.”
McDowall explained that the union had followed the necessary protocol in seeking the increase and the matter had not yet reached the Ministry of Finance.
“As far as I am concerned we are still in embryonic stages of negotiations, which means that we still have to look at having to deal with the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Civil Service and then we follow the process straight through. I guess then we meet with the Minister of Finance later in the process,” McDowall added.
The trade union boss said a letter had been sent to the ministry requesting a meeting “before the end of this week” but there was yet no response.
McDowall maintained that if the meeting was not held, the NUPW would go back to its members to determine the next step.
“Remember at the end of our meeting last week we said that we were looking to meet with them before the end of this week. So once the whole process has started we will go from there,” he said.
Meantime, a well-respected retired trade union leader today dismissed as “hot air” the union’s demands.
The veteran trade unionist, who spoke to Barbados TODAY on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said the request made no sense whatsoever, adding he did not anticipate the workers receiving any more than two per cent in the current economic circumstances.
“I would be the most surprised man in the world if they even got more than five per cent. They got to sit down and see how much Government can afford. I don’t see them getting nuh more than two per cent. It might sound a little ridiculous, eh . . . Jamaica year before last laid off quite a number of their staff and then they took a ten per cent cut also; and yuh don’t want that,” he warned.
Following a meeting with an estimated 250-plus public officers last Thursday, NUPW Acting General Secretary Delcia Burke announced that the union would seek an 18 per cent rise for the period 2010 to 2013 and a further five per cent from 2013 to 2015.
However, the retired leader cautioned that if Government were to give in to the NUPW’s demands it would “lick up the country”.
He recalled going to the negotiation table when things were a lot better and witnessed the leader of Government team arguing for nearly two hours in favour of a half per cent increase, even though the union eventually received a little more.
“But I just showing you [it depends on] who is putting Government’s case, how well they will perform. But you can’t start at 23 per cent in these times.”
He also reiterated Sinckler’s warning that Government would have to impose further taxes to pay for the increase.
According to the trade unionist, Government was also likely to retrench even more public servants.
“Those who have been laid off already are enough as far as I am concerned,” he stressed.