Despite attempts by Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss to ridicule their planned protest, the top trade unions here today said they would proceed with their march against the steep rise in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which took effect on July 1.
President of the Barbados Secondary Teacher’ Union (BSTU) Mary Redman, General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) Toni Moore, President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall and other union representatives met with Acting Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith today to agree the details of the march from Queen’s Park, The City, to Parliament, where they hope to present letters to Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and the two Independent Members of Parliament.
The three unions, along with the Barbados Union of Teachers, have also received permission from the clerk of Parliament for the handover of the letters, Redman told Barbados TODAY.
“We are really responding to a mandate given to us by our membership. This is what our members want to happen. It is being called a walk as opposed to march because a march has certain connotation . . . . This is our effort to get the powers that be – a kind of a last-ditch effort to get the powers that be – to understand that they need to come, sit and talk with us in a way that will address the concerns of all workers, and, I will venture to say, citizens of the country,” she said.
Much to the disgust of the unions, Inniss had said on Saturday that the walk would be nothing more than a weight loss exercise.
The labour movement is contending that the levy, which increased from two per cent to ten per cent, will cause hardship among all Barbadians, including their members.
They had initially demanded a repeal of the tax or a coping subsidy for workers, both of which Government flatly rejected when the two side met on June 23.
Following a two-hour meeting with shop stewards last Friday, the four trade unions softened their position, announcing they were prepared to live with the NSRL at five per cent, a message they intend to deliver to Stuart tomorrow.
“We wrote again last week and we are appealing yet again tomorrow to give further consideration to what we are asking for, calling for not only on behalf of the members that we serve but on behalf of an entire Barbados population that we regard as being unable to carry the burden that has been placed on them,” the BWU’s Moore said.
The NSRL is part of a series of taxes, including rises in duties on petrol and the introduction of a two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions, announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30 Budget to raise $542 million to help government close a massive fiscal deficit.
Moore said the levy was a “ most vexing issue” which the unions were seeking to address, particularly in light of the fact that workers have not had a pay rise in nearly a decade.
“From the public servant’s perspective, it is an issue that is more concerning because public sector workers as a large group have gone without a salary increase for the last nine years and this is yet another method of taxation that has been imposed upon them for what many regard as the straw now that is going to break the proverbial camel’s back for private sector workers.
“These workers are thrown into a mode of insecurity, not only because they now have not only like everybody else the National Social Responsibility Levy that is so onerous to carry, but their own jobs are now at stake as private sector companies may find that they cannot hold strain,” she said.
The unions have already put Government on notice that they were prepared to do whatever was necessary to get some form of relief for their members.
In fact, the NUPW had threatened industrial action before the four unions came together to tackle the issue.
McDowall told Barbados TODAY tomorrow’s action was a “last appeal” to Stuart to listen to the workers’ cry.
“Everything is on stream in terms of the logistics. We would have already informed our shop stewards, so we expect them to join and turn out tomorrow. The walk will be very short. As I said, it’s more about what is being done at the end of the walk than about the walk itself. We expect it to be a very encouraging and safe walk but we hope that at the end of the walk we can get the Government to acquiesce to the request that we are making,” the NUPW boss said.
BUT President Pedro Shepherd did not attend today’s meeting, but said his union was aboard for tomorrow’s protest.
“The BUT certainly will be out in their colours. It is a cause we are supporting. We are looking at the budgetary measures, particularly the NSRL, moving from two to ten per cent, and the impact that it is going to have on teachers who are consumers. That is where our focus is,” he said.