There was a gentler, less militant, more conciliatory tone today from President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall as he emerged from a round of negotiations with Government for wage increases for public servants.
While he remained firm that the workers deserve a hike for which the union would continue to press, gone from his vocabulary was the tough language he had used in the past when the union sought to pressure the Freundel Stuart administration back to the negotiating table.
Instead, McDowall was measured and in a mood to compromise, even telling Barbados TODAY that Government’s initial offer of zero per cent was not disrespectful.
“The Government came with zero per cent and we started at 23 per cent and this is not unusual because in salary negotiations the Government usually starts at zero per cent. So it wasn’t anything disrespectful to the union because that is how it has happened over the years.
“So they will have to now write us officially on the matter and we would respond and say what our position is and they would come back with a counter offer. We are of the view that public servants deserve a salary increase and we are resolute in our position and we are not going to change our mind from that,” the union leader said.
The NUPW met with Government negotiators at the Personnel Administration Division under the chairmanship of Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Civil Service Alyson Forte for about two hours this morning, in what McDowall later described as “cordial” talks.
The trade unionist told Barbados TODAY the two sides began the day a long way apart, but by the conclusion of talks at about noon, “both parties seemed amenable to finding a compromise”.
“The meeting was cordial and the union was able to show the Government the evidence as to why a salary increase was due to the workers. I believe that our side would have been able to put a strong enough case for them to go back to the Prime Minister and ask for a different position to the one they came with.”
McDowall has come in for criticism from Government and even from within his own union for demanding a 23 per cent increase.
The union’s Deputy General-Treasurer Roy Greenidge, who tomorrow will seek to wrest the presidency from McDowall in internal elections, has denounced the double-digit pay demand as “unreasonable and ridiculous”.
Meantime, Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has made it clear that given the economic uncertainty facing the country, the Stuart administration simply could not afford to give civil servants a pay rise, even though workers had not received an increase in nine years.
However, McDowall has insisted that the union was reasonable, and that Government can afford to pay, citing as proof, the recent vote in Parliament to restore the ten per cent that was cut from the salaries of parliamentarians and senior public servants in 2014 at the height of austerity.