President Akanni McDowall Tuesday spoke out strongly in defence himself and other top officials of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), after Government minister Donville Inniss tore into the union’s leadership in Parliament Tuesday, accusing it of not only engaging in “irresponsible and reckless” behaviour, but of playing politics with the island’s 50th anniversary celebrations.
However, an equally attacking McDowall immediately fired back at the minister, telling Barbados TODAY that if anyone was being wild and reckless, it was Inniss himself for making “baseless” and unsubstantiated claims for which he had not even a shred of evidence.
The NUPW president did agree with Inniss that politics was definitely at play in the current dispute between his union and the Freundel Stuart administration over his recent reversion from a senior to a junior position in the public service, even though he sought to make it clear it was all from the Government side.
“If you look at the facts of the case – and I have tried not to speak on the case so much because I don’t really want to be judge and jury in my own case . . . you can see that it is a clear case of victimization,” said McDowall.
“The whole thing just doesn’t make sense. It is a botched job by the Government to remove me from the office of president [of the NUPW],” he added.
McDowall explained that after failing to have him removed as NUPW head by way of two recent unsuccessful no confidence motions, an attempt was also made to stop him from sitting on Government’s Severance Payments Tribunal, adding that “this third attempt now is to revert me to my substantive post.
“So there have been many attempts by this Government to remove me from the office of president, but let it be known that I will not be silenced, I will continue to represent the workers of this country to the best of my ability and I will remain as president of the NUPW,” McDowall told Barbados TODAY.
At the same time, he was adamant that neither he nor any member of his executive was doing the bidding of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
“I have no political affiliation and my only concern is that of the membership,” he said when pressed on the issue.
Asked about the fact that at least one member of his executive was a recent candidate for the Opposition, McDowall said: “Everybody has a personal choice to make. I always felt that all of my executive members can be objective. I always say to them that ‘you can have your political affiliations but when you walk through the trade union door you must make sure that whatever decisions you make are in relation to trade union matters. Do not bring politics to the trade union’. And that is my philosophy, and so far they have been able to stick to that and I have no evidence to say that any of my members would have taken a political decision. They have always been as objective as possible and I commend them for that,” he stressed.
However, while commenting on the current go-slow at the island’s ports of entry, Inniss told Parliament Tuesday he had tried unsuccessfully to intervene in the dispute which he said was creating frustrations for both locals and visitors alike, concluding that it was really about politics.
“I called the president of the NUPW on the weekend and said to him, ‘I want an opportunity to speak to your members at your office, at NUPW headquarters because this is now a political matter, this ain’t about no administration. This is pure politics and I’m a politician’. He said he can’t allow that.
“I said, ‘I’m going to ask permission from the police to hold a public meeting outside NUPW headquarters if that is what it takes’ because the truth of the matter Mr Speaker is that I’m not going to sit here as we celebrate our 50th year of independence and have Barbados brought to a screeching halt by as bunch of irresponsible trade union leaders who are purely about practising their partisan politics,” he said.
Speaking during debate on a resolution congratulating Barbados on the attainment of 50 years of independence, Inniss also charged that the level of productivity by union officials must be questioned.
“These said officers are public officers you know, and when you look at the fact that when they hold these offices they do not go to work too often, they do not produce. Our forefathers must be very embarrassed at what happens these days around here,” he told members of the House.
However, McDowall said he was concerned that Inniss had chosen Parliament to say what he had to say to him and his union.
“He [Inniss] made a statement saying I was not qualified. That is not true.
“I am qualified according to the Qualifications Order 2001, and the fact of the matter is as well that all of the Health Planners within that section have the same qualification that I have. So if you are going to say that I’m not qualified, it means that all of the other health planners are not qualified and you should really shut down the health planning department,” he added.