The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), under the leadership of Akanni McDowall, has been given a failing grade by former president Walter Maloney, who suggests the island’s largest public sector union has lost its way.
Delivering the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s (DLP) lunchtime lecture ahead of next Wednesday’s NUPW ballot, in which McDowall faces a serious challenge from Deputy General-Treasurer Roy Greenidge for the presidency, Maloney was highly critical of the current union executive.
In fact, he charged that the new NUPW vanguard had destroyed in one fell swoop the mutual respect between the trade union and Government, which he said had taken over 70 years to build.
The former president, who has himself been accused of acting in a partisan manner and was tipped to take up a diplomatic post within the current administration after demitting the presidency two years ago, lamented that the current industrial relations climate in the country was one of acrimony and chaos, spurred on by “crass party political action” on the part of the present NUPW leadership.
“We would have taken 76 years to develop relationships within the public service. So under my tenure and before, we never marched up and down because the relationship with the permanent secretaries at the time was such that they would call if there was a problem, so that we could solve it before it got out of hand,” he told the gathering of DLP supporters at the party’s George Street headquarters.
He stressed that while the union had focused in the past on developing its relationship with Government, “what we see now, it comes over as if they [NUPW] are attacking senior public servants” and “the relationship that was there seems to have soured so much now that it appears to me that the closeness and trust is no longer there”.
As for the union’s demand for a 23 per cent pay hike for public workers, Maloney dismissed it as “ridiculous and unrealistic”, saying there were other important issues “we need as a collective body to address.
“We are focusing on areas like salary increases, which is not a bad area, but it becomes a very ignorant area if you are going to be asking for increases that make no sense,” the former NUPW president said.
“When you negotiate you look at other areas, because getting an increase is not the only thing the union is supposed to be looking at, we need to talk about social protection for the workers and health. These things allow persons to save money as well. It is not about getting the extra $100 in your pay packet. So yes, I have great difficulty with what I am seeing now,” Maloney insisted.
He also said while many people were lauding the militancy of the union’s youthful leadership, such action may actually prove to be counter productive in the long run.
“I am really not happy. I have heard some commentators say that the union has become more militant but it seems as though they do not know the definition of militancy. If militancy is everyday you walk around Broad Street chanting and at the end of that there is nothing tangible to show for it, then I think that is misplaced militancy… All we hear everyday in media is about somebody planning to take some action but the trade union movement is made up of more than that,” he stressed.
Just last weekend, Minister of Education Ronald Jones harshly criticized the NUPW over the participation of some of its executives in a recent Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP)-sponsored national march against the Freundel Stuart Government’s handling of the economy.
Jones, who had suggested at the time that the NUPW leaders “could as well call themselves Team BLP”, was strongly backed up by Government Senator Irene Sandiford-Garner, who also accused the union of disrespecting the Prime Minister.
However, McDowall has rejected those positions out of hand in much the same way that he rejected outspoken Government Minister Donville Inniss’ suggestion that the union’s 23 per cent wage demand was downright unreasonable.
The NUPW president maintains that workers, who have been made to hold strain for the past eight to nine years, are deserving of an increase. He has therefore warned that while a compromise may be in order, the union is not about to forfeit its demands for a pay hike.