It appears as though it will definitely not be business as usual at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) Thursday.
Amid increasing tensions between Government and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), unionized workers at this island’s lone airport embarked on a worrying sick out around noon Wednesday that looks set to intensify Thursday.
Following a breakdown in pay talks between GAIA and the NUPW last week, the union Wednesday warned that it was not about to back down from its demands for a 16 per cent pay hike for the 400 employees there.
On the contrary, the NUPW, which had earlier this month ordered its members in customs and immigration to embark on a go-slow at both ports of entry, appeared set to turn up the heat on the Freundel Stuart administration for “maximum effect”.
While declining to go into details about the nature of Thursday’s action, one top official warned Wednesday that the protest action would escalate unless a more favourable response was forthcoming from Government to the proposed pay rise.
Last Friday, NUPW officials walked out of a meeting with airport management after they were informed that Cabinet had rejected the union’s demand, as well as GAIA’s counter offer of 15 per cent, on the grounds that any pay hike for airport workers must be seen within the context of a salary increase for the entire public service.
In solidarity with their union, some GAIA workers reported sick Wednesday.
The warning shot was delivered by custodial staff, including airport cleaners, and engineering staff who are responsible for electrical repairs, air conditioning and other technical operations at GAIA, who began complaining of feeling unwell around noon.
When contacted, all that GAIA Corporate Communications Specialist Keith Goddard would say was that “some members of staff did leave their positions” and that the airport had not received any official notice from the NUPW of the protest action.
However, the NUPW reported that 80 per cent of the custodial staff, with the exception of airport security personnel, had failed to show up for duty.
In the case of the security section, the NUPW said the sick out rate was about 50 per cent, but the more hard-hit areas were manned by management, including some who were forced to go out and drive trucks.
So far, travel in and out of the country remains unhindered.
However, this could all quickly change by Thursday if the union proceeds to act on its threats.
The development comes amid conflicting reports about the impact of a go-slow, instituted by the NUPW over a week ago in its bid to force Government to reinstate union president Akanni McDowall to a senior acting position in the public service after he was recently sent back to his substantive junior post.
However, so far the Freundel Stuart administration has refused to budge even though the NUPW and other key trade unions have warned of disruptions to this year’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations, which are due to culminate in a visit by Britain’s Prince Harry next week.
Wednesday, the man charged with responsibility for Immigration Senator Darcy Boyce suggested that the industrial action has had little impact.
While not making specific reference to the protest action, Boyce told a citizen induction ceremony for 110 immigrants at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre Wednesday morning the island was continuing to welcome large crowds who were being quickly processed.
“This year we have even larger crowds coming in and they [immigration officers] are processing people as quickly as they can at the airport,” Boyce said.
He was overflowing in his praise for the immigration officers for putting their “shoulders to the wheel in handling the very large number of passengers that we have coming through the airport and the seaport at this time.
“I wish to thank each one of the staff of the immigration department for that devotion to duty and commitment to their responsibility,” Boyce said, while prompting the gathering to applaud.
“I want to assure and reassure you in immigration that your hard work and commitment do not go unnoticed and I wish again to thank you on behalf of the Government of Barbados for your sterling efforts.”
His commendation followed a claim by a senior trade unionist and NUPW member who Tuesday told Barbados TODAY the go-slow was a failure.
Yet, the NUPW top brass remains adamant that the go-slow is having a negative impact on operations at the ports, and tourism officials and the business community have expressed concern about the impact the two-week-old protest could have on the island’s economy.
Boyce Wednesday stressed the functions other than border protection that immigration officers undertake, facilitating business in terms of work permits and responsibility for the Caribbean Community skilled certificates, and pledged the Freundel Stuart administration’s support for the department.
“We in Government are highly supportive of you and continue thank you for the fine job that many of you are doing in many regards”, Boyce said.