There appears to be no immediate end in sight to the industrial action over a pay rise at Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA), with the Unity Workers Union (UWU) joining the protest spearheaded by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
The UWU was at the forefront of protest action Monday, leading another stoppage of work by some 100 employees –– mainly engineers and custodians –– who downed tools and picked up placards, keeping the pressure on Government to meet their pay demand.
They marched outside the main terminal chanting, “Fair Work, Fair Pay” and “We Want Our Money, We Want It Now”.
The workers had demanded a 16 per cent increase, to which GAIA Inc replied with an offer of 15.5 per cent. The NUPW, which represents about half of the 400 airport workers, seemed prepared to accept that offer.
However, Cabinet is reported to have vetoed the offer, ordering instead that the airport workers be given whatever deal is later agreed for public servants. GAIA Inc is a private company, fully owned by the Government of Barbados.
Interim UWU President Alvin Hall, a senior electronics technician at the airport and the leader of today’s march, told Barbados TODAY Government’s decision to lump them with public servants did not make sense.
“They are seeking to link us to the public service and we are not public servants. Yes, we do a service for the public [but] we aren’t public servants. We are private sector employees . . . therefore we should be treated accordingly.”
Hall complained that airport workers have not had a pay rise in eight years, and while they have been patient, they have been finding it difficult to cope with increases in the cost of living.
“The measures that have been imposed on the country have affected every single Barbadian. They know this and we have been asked to hold strain, but yet within the public service every single [public] servant enjoys an increment, so every year they get a salary increase and we have not had one since 2008. So we are saying let us be allowed to be happy too. It’s supposed to be Independence.”
The trade unionist was hopeful that a resolution could soon be found. However, he said until then the workers, led by the NUPW, would continue their protest.
“Since the NUPW is the bargaining agent they will inform us . . . as to their next step. But, for time being we will continue to protest until we are heard,” Hall insisted.
He also encouraged other workers to put aside any fear of victimization that they might have and join the industrial action.
“We are hoping for more numbers; there are persons in the airport who want to enjoy salary increase too, they want it, but they are afraid to come out and let their voices be heard; and sometimes people are victimized for fighting for a just cause.”
Meantime, NUPW shop steward Marlene Chase reiterated the union’s position that they were not prepared to be accept the categorization as public servants unless they were also given all the benefits that civil servants enjoy.
“If they want to treat us like public servants let us enjoy the increments that they enjoy, which is 14 to 21 sick days . . . . The public service laws do not apply to us, but they want to treat us like a Government entity when it suits them and then when it don’t suit them they want to treat us like private [sector]. That is unfair,” Chase told Barbados TODAY.
The battle between airport workers and GAIA Inc goes back over six years, with a sticking point being a contentious 3.5 per cent pay rise for 2011.
Airport management had always insisted that the 2011 increase had been taken off the table at a meeting back in December 2010, chaired by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, a position supported by Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo when she ruled in March that the workers were not entitled to that increase.
Despite vowing to press on, the union later dropped that demand and has since demanded a 16 per cent increase.