With the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) due to take effect here Saturday, three of this island’s leading trade unions are again warning that the measure is of the sort that it could trigger a showdown of national proportions.
It was the second such warning in a week by top officials of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) following a five hour meeting with Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler last Friday at Government Headquarters, at which they failed to get Government to either repeal the measure or to approve a coping subsidy for their members.
However, during a joint press conference at the NUPW’s Dalkeith, St Michael headquarters Friday afternoon, union officials were quite adamant that the onerous tax, which moves from two per cent to ten per cent on July 1, was simply too much for their members to bear.
And while not revealing their full hand in terms of what action they intend to take, they stressed that they were not about to take the matter lying down, while suggesting that a response could be forthcoming as early as next week.
“In industrial relations all options are always on the table,” warned BWU General Secretary Toni Moore.
She said while the unions felt connected to a lot of emotion and feelings on the ground, they were giving “careful consideration” to their next move.
“We appreciate that we have to first speak to our members and make sure that what we perceive as the best response is in their view the best response,” Moore said, adding that the unions were of the view that “if we are going to make any dents in the current situation, all of Barbados has to speak”.
During the press conference, NUPW President Akanni McDowall said the unions remained open to dialogue with Government.
However, with no relief currently forthcoming, he said the unions were sending “a strong signal to the Government that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to represent our members”.
“What we cannot do now is tell you what those plans are or what the signal will be,” he emphasized.
However, BSTU President Mary Redman revealed that in the interim the unions would be jointly fashioning correspondence to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as well as Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and the two independent members of Parliament “again outlining our position and recommending an acceptable response as we attempt to move forward”.
‘We are hoping that common sense and caring will prevail and that concern for the economic well-being and social stability of members of this society will override purely fiscal considerations that, if they are enforced, will redound to the destruction of the society,” she added.
Along with the three unions represented at the briefing, an open invitation has been issued to shop stewards of all trade unions and workers’ associations in both the public and private sectors to attend a meeting at the BWU’s Solidarity House headquarters next Thursday to finalize the national plan of action.
“We are assuring our membership that our meeting on Thursday is not going to be just another talk shop,” Moore stated emphatically.
The last time unions joined forces in major industrial action was two years ago at the height of a dispute at the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) over the retrenchment of ten workers who had reached the age of 60.
However, the BWU General Secretary warned that the pending action could be on a much larger scale given the vast number of citizens that would be affected by the austerity measures of the Budget, which was presented in Parliament on May 30.
“The scale is different because that was dealing with a specific issue and a public sector issue. This is one that touches every single citizen of Barbados. So that is every single worker, every single family member,” Moore stressed.