Workers at Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) Inc. took to the picket line today in the latest attempt to force airport management to accept their demands for a pay increase.
Approximately 70 of the 400 or so airport workers this morning downed tools and picked up placards. By 2PM the number of protesters had increased to about 100, but after a short meeting the action was suspended for the day.
Security officers, custodians and engineers, joined by the top brass of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), marched the breadth of the airport car park multiple times, chanting: “We want our money now”.
Shop Steward David Durant told Barbados TODAY it was only the beginning of things to come unless Government gave in to their demand for a 16 per cent rise instead of a proposal to offer GAIA employees whatever wage settlement was agreed for public servants.
“We really just want to get our message out. We are not Government workers when it suits them, that is really one of our biggest cries. Which one are we? The lines are a little too blurred for us, we need clarity and we need to be able to sit down at the table and discuss this. For the better part of the year the NUPW has been in negotiations with management on our behalf,” Durant said.
Airport workers and GAIA Inc. had been involved on a lengthy and bitter dispute over a contentious 3.5 per cent pay rise for 2011, which airport management had insisted had been taken off the table at a meeting in December 2010, chaired by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Despite a ruling by Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo in March that the workers were not entitled to that increase, the NUPW, which represents about half of the approximately 400 workers, had insisted that was not the case and it would continue to fight for the 2011 pay rise.
However, in an apparent change of tactic, the union later dropped that demand and sought a four per cent rise in wages for that year as part of a broader demand for a 24 per cent increase for the period 2011 to 2015.
The union has since amended its demand to 16 per cent, to which GAIA countered with an offer of 15.5 per cent.
This, however, was vetoed by Cabinet, which said the airport workers would receive whatever increase given to public servants, the NUPW charged.
“The 3.5 per cent we asked for has been taken off the table, we had protest action and then we turned around and brought fresh negotiations [which they] had asked us to do. So we are asking why now after all this time to lump us with Government because that is what came out of the last meeting on November 14, ‘we want to give Government workers a percentage and give GAIA workers a premium’ . . . . To us it is a puff of smoke. So you can’t come and do that to us now, I think it is disrespectful to us,” Durant insisted.
Barbados TODAY understands that workers will return to the picket line over the weekend. However, the union stopped short of threatening to disrupt the 50th Independence anniversary celebrations with protest action.
It was just last month that the NUPW had anticipated an end to the prolonged wages dispute by the end of this month.
Following a meeting with the workers and GAIA management on October 20, NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith had said those in attendance had felt a resolution was in sight.
“We had a very cordial and amicable meeting and we were discussing the salaries proposal for the workers here at GAIA. We are comfortable with the stage that we are at and we await the management to go back to the board and get back to us shortly. Then we would go back to the workers and hopefully we can wrap it up before the end of November,” said Smith at the time.
Earlier this week, staff staged a sick-out after talks broke down last week. NUPW President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY that Government’s decision to decline the salary increase for workers was the final straw.
McDowall added that the union was satisfied that it had followed proper industrial relations protocols and was left with little choice but to resort to protest action.
“The NUPW was informed that Government requested a hold on salary increases until the general public service salaries and wages negotiations were completed. The union disagreed since the GAIA salary negotiation were based on profits made from 2011 to current,” the NUPW president said.
GAIA Corporate Communications Specialist Keith Goddard told Barbados TODAY the impact of the strike had not yet been determined.
However Barbados TODAY was informed that senior airport staff had to be called to perform security checks on departing passengers.