Time appears to no longer be on the side of embattled President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall, following his recent reversion from a senior acting post to his substantive junior position in the public service.
With his acting stint as Health Planning Officer due to officially expire tomorrow, one trade union official today acknowledged there was no longer a legal leg for the NUPW to stand on, in terms of its argument for McDowall’s reinstatement.
At the same time, General Secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union Caswell Franklyn sounded a strong word of warning that “the issue is way too fundamental to trade unionism to be an the NUPW’s fight alone”, while describing Government’s treatment of the union president as not only “vindictive and stupid”, but nothing short of “a criminal offence”.
“He [McDowall] has no claim to that job after tomorrow, but you can’t just allow [the removal of a union president from a public service post] just to happen and have no response, because they would do it to Caswell tomorrow, Mary Redman [Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union president] the next week and so on.
“So this is something that is fundamental to the trade union movement,” he said.
Franklyn, who had earlier raised questions about McDowall’s entry into the public service, said that was an entirely different matter to the one the union was presently confronting.
He pointed out that Barbados has been signatory since 1967 to the International Labour Organization Convention, and that “these officials are supposed to be protected against victimization for doing their job as trade unionists.
“If we don’t have that protection, unions would not exist,” he told Barbados TODAY.
His comments came as union representatives, including the embattled McDowall, met at Cabinet office for discussions with Government officials.
Although the matter of McDowall’s restatement is still foremost on the union’s agenda, Barbados TODAY understands that today’s meeting ended without a firm commitment from the Freundel Stuart administration to that effect.
Asked what were the implications in terms of the ongoing protest action by the NUPW at both ports of entry, Franklyn, who was not party to today’s talks, said he was not in a position to say if the union would call off its protest action at this stage.
At the same time, he did not seem to hold out much hope that Government would give in to the NUPW’s demands, not even with the threat of industrial action hanging over the current three-day visit by Britain’s Prince Harry.
“This Government doesn’t care about anybody or anything. If they were interested in settling this matter, they wouldn’t wait until the Prince land; they would have done it long before. But they want to show that they are tough and they will hold out,” Franklyn charged.
He also did not spare any wrath for those workers who had refused to have any part in the recent industrial action, calling them “damn well selfish”.
“They say, ‘oh well, other people got reversions and the union never fought, but no worker in Barbados ever got reverted
for the reasons that Akanni was reverted,” said Franklyn in the NUPW president’s defence.
Contending that it a clear-cut case of political victimization, he said there was a time when the current administration was firmly in McDowall’s corner. However, he said it was clear that he had now fallen out of favour with them, given his unceremonious removal from his acting position approximately six weeks before his stint was due to come to an end.
“They could have allowed him to continue in that job for six weeks and there would have been no issue, but because he got up and spoke on behalf of the sanitation workers so forcefully that morning, they took him out,” Franklyn claimed.
However, he said the move had turned out to be a major misstep on the part of Government, since there was no evidence of any offence on McDowall’s part.
“You could only take him out if there was an offence,” he argued.
“And if he committed an offence, there would have been the process you go through. You charge him, and have a hearing and then move him if he was found guilty. That is the only way you should be able to remove him before the expiration of his acting appointment, because for all intents and purposes, he is to be treated as though he is appointed to that job for the duration of the acting appointment,” the veteran trade unionist said.