Signs are emerging that the battle for the presidency of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) could turn ugly, with the contenders already firing less-than-complimentary verbal salvos at each other.
The contest has also exposed a major schism between Deputy General Treasurer Roy Greenidge – the man challenging Akanni McDowall for the post – and his executive, over wage demands for public workers.
In an interview yesterday, Greenidge told Barbados TODAY the union’s demand for a 23 per cent pay rise was “ridiculous” and “unreasonable” and would be taken off the table should he be elected president next month.
“It [the 23 per cent] was worked out specifically but we have lost a lot of ground over the years. It is eight years now since we haven’t had a salary increase and despite the fact that I would like a salary increase, we still have to think of the future.
“In 1991 we took a pay cut and we survived and it is our hope that the country would survive. We are 23,000 civil servants and I agree that we have households, but at the same time I don’t think that we would like to see ourselves in a position where our future generation would suffer as a result of a ridiculous and unreasonable demand,” he said.
Greenidge, a senior immigration officer, repeated a charge previously made by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that the NUPW, under McDowall’s leadership, had abandoned proper industrial relations protocol by using industrial action as its first option in negotiations, as opposed to a last resort.
This, Greenidge said, had resulted in a tumultuous relationship between the union and Government, something he placed squarely at his president’s feet.
“I think we need to sit down at the bargaining table because there is a bargaining table. I think persons get offended when you go outside of that arena. I think that is probably why we have lost some respect of the Government by not returning to the bargaining table. So that would be my challenge; that would be my cause,” the contender stressed.
It is this sort of position that has led McDowall and his supporters to suggest that Greenidge is nothing more than a puppet of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), sent to challenge for the leadership strictly for political reasons.
In fact, the NUPW has been demanding that the Stuart administration return to the bargaining table – with the two sides not having met since last October – and the union’s general council recently voted to take industrial action in a bid to force Government to resume negotiations.
Greenidge last week formally threw his hat into the ring, ahead of next month’s NUPW vote. He was accompanied by other members of his team, including Kimberley Agard, who had earlier brought a no confidence motion against McDowall.
In light of this McDowall has questioned Greenidge’s motives, warning it could well be “another attempt to prevent the union from holding the Government’s feet to the fire”.
However, Greenidge has taken umbrage at the comments linking him to the DLP.
And even though he said it was not the first time he had been accused of being a supporter of the ruling party, he insisted he had “no political affiliation whatsoever”.
“I don’t know about anyone else, but personally speaking I am not aligned [to any political party]. I get very offended when people try to align me. I have a situation where someone used my name and affiliated me and I know that is not going to end that way. I have never had membership of any party and I have never attended [meetings] for any of those political parties.
“Brother McDowall has stated openly that he is surprised that I am challenging him but we are one organization and it is obvious that there has to be some person inside challenging him. We don’t go outside for a challenge, the challenge has to be internal,” Greenidge said.