Pay talks between the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Grantley Adams International Airport Inc (GAIA) have reportedly ended in stalemate.
Barbados TODAY understands that today’s negotiations ended without a resolution, as Government, through GAIA management, continued to insist on tying any increase for the 400 GAIA employees to public servants.
The two sides returned to the bargaining table today following a recent breakdown in their negotiations that has sparked a workers’ picket at the island’s lone airport.
The NUPW is demanding a 16 per cent increase for airport workers, while GAIA has countered with a 15.5 per cent offer, which the union was said to have been prepared to accept.
However, Cabinet has vetoed the apparent deal, and the Freundel Stuart administration has so far been adamant that any increase for the airport workers would have to be considered within the context of pay increases for the entire public service.
The union had indicated that as a sign of good faith the protest at the airport had been suspended today as they await a response from Government. It was not immediately clear if the picketing would resume, and attempts by Barbados TODAY to reach NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith, President Akanni McDowall and Deputy General Secretary Delcia Burke proved futile.
Meanwhile, the NUPW is standing its ground on the McDowall’s controversial removal from an acting senior post in the public service, even though his six-month acting stint has now officially expired.
Earlier this week, General Secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union Caswell Franklyn expressed concern that with McDowall’s stint ending on November 30, the NUPW would no longer have any legal leg to stand on, in terms of arguing for his reinstatement.
However, the union is contending that the matter is “far from over”.
One official told Barbados TODAY this morning that the position was currently vacant, since the acting stint of the officer who had replaced McDowall on October 14 had also expired yesterday.
And while it is for Government to ultimately decide who fills the contentious post of Health Planning Officer, the official, who is intimately aware of the current negotiations, warned that the matter could still come down in McDowall’s favour. “If they decide to fill the post, Akanni would still have to be the person,” the official said, warning that even though the current perception may be that the union’s position has been weakened since the Government has simply refused to give in, the matter was “far from over”.
“In fact, they may win the battle and lose the war,” the official said, pointing out that “it is easy for unions to resist any programme that Government tries to implement”.
He highlighted the ongoing dispute surrounding the merger of customs into the Barbados Revenue Authority, as well as the outsourcing of garbage collection duties to private waste haulers, while stressing that “there must be cooperation for the system to work”.
So far the NUPW has instituted a go-slow at both ports of entry in its bid to force Government to meet its demands.
Officials say a lot still rests on whether or not McDowall is reinstated, and stressed that it was still important for Government to show where he had gone wrong..
Pointing to the public service regulations, the official was adamant that as the most senior person in the department, McDowall must be allowed to act until the position is permanently filled.
The NUPW official further argued that the only way McDowall could be prevented from acting at this stage was for disciplinary reasons, or in a case where the substantive officer returns or a more senior officer takes up the post of Senior Health Planner.
Furthermore, if Government decides to permanently fill the post, a competitive process must be followed by way of interviews or some form of written examination, the trade unionist said.
The union has been claiming political victimization of its 32-year-old president, who has been criticized in some quarters for his firebrand and non-conventional style of leadership.
However, McDowall continues to enjoy the support of the union’s general council, which has given the NUPW a mandate to have the matter resolved by any means necessary.
McDowall also has the backing of the island’s other trade union leaders, including Franklyn, who told Barbados TODAY on Tuesday the issue was way too fundamental to trade unionism to be the NUPW’s fight alone.
Franklyn had also described 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,” the UWU general secretary had said at the time.
On Tuesday, the leaders of all the major trade unions, with the exception of UWU, met at Cabinet Office under the chairmanship of the Head of this country’s Civil Service. Those negotiations are due to resume tomorrow at 2 p.m. in the hope of achieving common ground.