The trade union movement has been called into question on a number of occasions, with many asking about its relevance in today’s society. Some have even argued that unions are now being used as a political tool rather than serving the purpose they were established for, which is to fight for the rights of workers.
And on Wednesday, trade unions were the focus of much attention.
The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) held it elections on that day to choose a new executive. Akanni McDowall easily brushed off a challenge for the presidency of the country’s largest public sector trade union, crushing his challenger, the union’s deputy general-treasurer Roy Greenidge.
After a bitter and acrimonious campaign for the leadership of the NUPW, McDowall defeated Greenidge 1,053 votes to 556, in one of the biggest voter turnouts for the union’s elections. 20 per cent of union members cast their ballots, double the voters two years ago.
Jubilant supporters held the re-elected president aloft after the results were announced.
Even as he celebrated his emphatic win, the union leader wasted little time getting down to business, telling those gathered at the NUPW headquarters at Dalkeith, St Michael that the first order of business would be to secure a 23 per cent pay rise for public workers.
Many were happy with the development, saying: “I think that the government will like to see Akanni McDowall removed as leader of the NUPW. He is a big threat to the government. He could put the government under a lot of pressure,” one person said.
Some were not very happy with the result of the union’s election, however, with one person saying: “The NUPW needs good leadership, not the kind of leadership Akanni brings to the bargaining table. Sooner rather than later he will take himself and membership on a roller coaster ride to self-destruction.”
But his biggest criticism came from his predecessor, Walter Maloney – who had himself been accused of acting in a partisan manner while in the post. He 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”.
Some supporters went to bat for the current president, however.
“If you had stood up for the NUPW membership while serving as its president, your mouthings would be deserving of at least an ear (one). Yours would long be remembered as [part of] the duo of union leadership that sold the workers out, before and after the 2013 elections. That you spoke against the backdrop of a DLP banner is no coincidence as you were always perceived to be sympathetic to the admin. While agreeing that the 23 per cent is way off chart, the membership today does feel as though it is being represented, unlike during your tenure.”
Another said: “Maloney, I am not a member of any union, but your previous team sold out the members and now that this team has made some representation of the workers, you are probably ashamed of the role you played when you had the opportunity to do the right thing for the workers. Just keep going to the lunchtime lectures and getting your belly full with the drivel that is served up every Friday. I guess you deserve that anyway.”
The Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU) took to the streets of the capital for a March of Respect on Wednesday morning to demonstrate their disgust with the way the ministry was treating teachers. Some 200 members of the 500-strong union sent a strong signal to the Ronald Jones-led Ministry of Education of intensified action this year to press for a
High on their agenda was their demand for payment for marking school-based assessment (SBA) projects administered by the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) – a demand Jones has repeatedly denied, often in unflattering terms.
“I’m supportive of any individual or group who takes a stand anywhere for that which is considered to be right and for which there is a principle. The ministry headed by this minister has been disrespecting teachers and principals for the last nine years,” one person stated.
“These issues cannot be resolved by marching. In the meantime, some of our children are suffering. The children are being punished. It is not fair. Teachers will take home less money because their pay will be docked. Time for them to stop the marching and sit down and talk. No wonder CXC is ignoring them,” another said.
Strong criticism was leveled at Jones.
“When the Minister of Education and the Minister of State were the top two in the Barbados Union of Teachers they would have marched about these issues. As former trade unionists, what have they done to improve the educational system in Barbados and the conditions in which teachers work?” one person stated.