The battle lines have been drawn and the island’s largest public service union is promising to turn up the heat on Government Thursday in an escalating row over the position in the public service of its president.
However, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) has refused to say how it intends to fight the war to force the Freundel Stuart administration to reverse a decision to end Akanni McDowall acting appointment in senior position and send him back to his substantive entry-level position of environmental assistant.
The union has already said it would take industrial action to force Government’s hands, but has refused to reveal what form the action will take, except to say that it would be phased.
What was expected to be the first phase of protest Wednesday, turned out to be a two-hour meeting with 28 environmental health officers at the NUPW headquarters, after which the officers returned to work and General Secretary Roslyn Smith announced the beginning of “something” Thursday.
“Something will start from tomorrow. I am not going to divulge what it is because we don’t want persons pre-empting the strategy. That is the reason why we have been keeping things under raps. But something will happen. So we are very upbeat about it,” Smith said.
Despite the less-than-exceptional turnout, Smith was confident that the union had the full backing of the environmental health officers.
She explained that those present would relay information to their colleagues, cognizant of what was at stake.
“We could not have 100 per cent here today and we recognize that. That is the reason why we have given them background information so that they could disseminate among the other workers, and it will not negate the action planned.
“We met over the last two hours with the environmental health inspectorate and we had called them to sensitize them to the issue related to their work colleague, brother McDowall. We had a very interesting discussion and they have pledged their support 100 per cent to support brother McDowall because they see that the issue is not only brother McDowall’s issue but also an issue that would affect all public officers if left unattended. We know that they are going back to sensitize their other colleagues,” Smith insisted.
The NUPW maintains that McDowall’s reversion to his substantive position was an act of victimization because he dared to stand up to Government on a number of issues related to workers, including those related to the National Conservation Commission, Grantley Adams International Airport – an issue which is said to be nearing a resolution – and the Sanitation Service Authority.
It was further incensed after it learned through unofficial channels that a junior officer had taken up the position in which McDowall had acted, it said, charging the newly appointed officer had superseded McDowall and several other senior officers.
“There are two things that we are looking at – having brother McDowall replaced in the position and the temporary officer [currently in the position] is superseding other officers within the public service, so it means she would have to be removed from the position,” Smith said.
The NUPW’s highest decision-making body, the National Council, on Monday gave the union the green light to take whatever action it deemed necessary in support of its cause.
However, late Wednesday evening, in a statement issued by the Barbados Government Information Service, it was announced that senior officials from the Personnel Administration Division and the Ministry of Civil Service will meet with the NUPW as requested to discuss McDowall’s “reversion” .
The meeting will be held Thursday in the E. Humphrey Walcott Building, Corner of Collymore Rock and Culloden Road, St Michael, the brief statement said.