With Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler admitting today that Government had not taken a position on whether or not civil servants would get a pay rise this financial year, the country’s largest public sector union is saying enough is enough.
The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) General Council this afternoon voted to begin industrial action in a bid to force the Freundel Stuart administration back to the negotiating table.
Sinckler did not make provisions for salary increases for Government workers in the 2017-2018 Estimates of Expenditure and Revenue, and in leading off debate on the new financial package in Parliament today, he scoffed at suggestions that the NUPW was prepared to mount industrial action to pressure Government to give in to its demands for a 23 per cent wage hike. The Barbados Workers Union has demanded a 15 per cent increase.
“All of the talk we are hearing about salary increase for public servants and the union want to strike because nobody ain’t talking to them and all that . . . this rush yuh brush, ‘let’s have a strike approach to industrial relations’ as far that particular union is concerned . . . . We haven’t come to a conclusion on salary increases in Barbados for public servants,” Sinckler said.
However, the Minister of Finance insisted that while no agreement had been reached on a pay rise, public servants would indeed take home larger pay cheques because of $58 million to be paid in increments.
This is unlikely to placate the NUPW, which has complained that while its members had not received a pay rise in nearly a decade, Government legislators all but gave themselves a ten per cent increase recently when they restored the monies cut from the salaries in 2014 at the height of austerity.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY following the meeting at the union’s headquarters in Dalkeith Road, St Michael, NUPW President Akanni McDowall said his members’ patience had run out and “Government’s disrespect for the workers and the union would no longer be tolerated”.
“What we were asking today is for Government to meet with us to continue negotiations. We have been trying to meet with Government since October last year and Government has quite frankly refused to meet, despite the number of correspondence we would have sent to the Ministry. Council met today and Council decided to take industrial action in order to get Government back to the table,” McDowall said.
However the NUPW boss was tight-lipped on the form on action the union would take, or when protest action would begin, although he said it would be “as soon as possible”.
“As you know we don’t go into details, but Council has said that we have to do it as soon as possible in order to bring them back to the table,” he said.
The union boss contended that even though it was not the NUPW’s intention to disrupt a country in economic turmoil, Government must show a willingness to reach an understanding with civil servants, who have not had a pay increase since 2008.
“They [Government] have to at least be willing to talk; we don’t negotiate in the media. We have heard things been bandied about and we can’t depend on those things. We have sit and look at all the facts in order to make a decision.
“I just hope that common sense will prevail and Government will call a meeting as soon as possible. Our role is not to disrupt the country, our role is to ensure that we maintain a harmonious industrial relationship with Government, but if Government is going to disrespect the union then we will do what we have to do,” McDowall stressed.
While the NUPW president was confident that the planned industrial action would force Government to the negotiating table, he did not rule out an all-out strike.
“Very seldom would we take industrial action and don’t get a response because we know what we are doing. But if it comes to that then we do whatever is necessary to make sure that they come to the table,” he stressed.