As Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) braces for a possible major disruption to its operations tomorrow, a top official of the island’s largest public sector trade union is recommending the appointment of a special independent mediator to help speed up settlements in industrial disputes.
Treasurer of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Asokore Beckles told Barbados TODAY Thursday afternoon there was urgent need for an independent mediator who can bring together disputing parties and broker a resolution within a reasonable period.
This would help to stave off the kind of industrial action currently facing the ports of entry, Beckles said.
While a sick-out continues at the airport over deadlocked pay talks on behalf of the 400 GAIA employees, stepped up action postponed from Thursday due to bad weather will now go ahead Friday, the NUPW has threatened.
“Contrary to popular belief, unions don’t like to strike, but one has to use such action as a last resort when there is no other way out or when it takes very long for the other party to respond to requests for meetings,” Beckles told Barbados TODAY.
Asked about the role of the Employment Rights Tribunal in certain disputes, he said not only was the tribunal too costly, but that it dragged on for much too long before reaching a decision.
“That NCC [National Conservation Commission] unfair dismissal case cost the union thousands and thousands of dollars,” the union executive pointed out.
There has been increased tension between the NUPW and Government over the reversion of the union’s president Akanni McDowall to a junior post in the public service.
The issue has been compounded by a breakdown in wage talks between the union and GAIA, resulting in a go-slow at both the air and sea ports and a sick out at the airport. And the union has promised to up the ante if its demand for a 16 per cent pay hike for the 400 airport employees was not met.
A union official who requested anonymity has told Barbados TODAY the NUPW was anxious for the pay impasse to end.
“We are hoping this matter could be resolved soon. We want to get back to the bargaining table . . . we want the management to come back with a full offer, rather than trying to tie the airport workers to the central Government service where the conditions of employment are entirely different,” the official said.
GAIA has countered the union’s 16 per cent pay rise demand with an offer 15.5 per cent.
However, the union has said that Cabinet recently rejected both positions and proposed offering GAIA employees whatever wage settlement was agreed for public servants.
Just Wednesday, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley expressed fear that the current industrial action could undermine business confidence as she called on Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to step in and resolve the matter.
“On this current dispute I must say that the Government has a duty to step in and urgently resolve it rather than letting it fester. The consequences of failing to act are simply too great, and it is too easy for the Prime Minister, as Minister of Civil Service, to solve,” she told the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry luncheon at the Hilton Barbados Resort.
Mottley also appealed to the country’s labour unions and private sector, who along with Government make up this island’s Social Partnership, not to allow intimidatory tactics to take root.
In fact she said the Social Partnership was key to restoring the industrial relations climate that was now spiralling out of control and threatening to undermine the confidence necessary to do business here.
“The Social Partnership must not stand back and allow a climate of intimidation of labour leaders or members of the private sector who voice their disagreement with Government on certain issues,” Mottley said in apparent reference to recent comments by Stuart, who recently described the go-slow as attempted ambush and warned that Government was not about to lie down and play dead in the face of the perceived strong-arm approach by the union.
Meanwhile, the union official revealed that the sick-out among immigration, customs and environmental health officers at the ports of entry in solidarity with McDowall was unlikely to spread at this stage, as the Civil Service had scheduled a meeting next week with the NUPW.
Barbados TODAY understands that the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union have been requesting a meeting with the Public Service Commission (PSC) to discuss the McDowall matter, fearing his reversion to an entry level post could set a precedent for the rest of the public service.