Prime Minister Freundel Stuart says there is no truth to allegations that he refused to meet with trade union leaders Tuesday, as they tried to present him with a letter outlining their concerns about the National Social Responsibility Levy.
In a statement released by the Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS) Wednesday evening, Stuart said he was expecting one person to deliver the letter to him at Parliament, but when told that all the leaders wanted to be present, he agreed and waited for them to be shown to his office. He assumed that this message was delivered to them.
“I waited upstairs in my office at Parliament for upwards of one half of an hour for the persons who were to deliver the letter.
“When I enquired about the delay, I was told the trade unionists were meeting with the Leader of the Opposition [Mia Mottley] and they would come to me afterwards.
“Subsequent to that, I got a follow-up message that the union leaders will leave the letter downstairs Parliament because their police permission had imposed timelines which they did not want to breach. So it is not true to say that I refused to meet with the union leaders,” the Prime Minister said.
Tuesday, President of the National Union of Public Workers Akanni McDowall reported that Stuart had refused to meet with him and three other trade union leaders, advising them through a police officer that he was prepared to meet just one union leader.
“We tried to deliver the letter to the Prime Minister first as a sign of respect. He sent an officer to us saying that he would allow the letter to be delivered but only by one leader. All of us said no. We were going to stay together. It is either that the Prime Minister accepts that all four leaders would have to deliver the letter or we would just leave the letter with the reception,” McDowall reported.
The NUPW president also said that having decided to move on, the four met with Mottley and were on their way out when the officer returned to advise that the Prime Minister was prepared to meet them all.
However, McDowall said by then they “could not meet with the Prime Minister because we definitely could not leave our members there [Independence Square].
“So, we left his letter along with those of the two Independent MPs [who were absent from Parliament] at reception,” he explained.
However, in further giving the background to the way the events unfolded, Stuart explained Wednesday that “on Monday afternoon, when the officer from the Special Branch was making me aware of this matter, in readily agreeing to receive the letter, I indicated that I saw nothing wrong with making myself available to the person who was going to hand the letter over.”
But according to the Prime Minister, the police officer communicated on Tuesday that all the union leaders wanted to be present and he acquiesced to their request.
In the statement, the Prime Minister underscored the importance he attached to receiving the letter, explaining: “On Tuesday, around 12:20 p.m. . . . while Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler was speaking, I got up and left the Chamber, a practice I don’t ordinarily follow. I do not leave the Chamber when my ministers are speaking, but I considered this occasion significant enough to justify my varying that practice”.
The Prime Minister also assured that he had received and read the unions’ letter while reiterating his respect for the trade union movement.
However, he did not respond directly to the union’s 48-hour ultimatum for his Government to issue tax relief or else, but pledged its continued commitment to working with all stakeholders, including the trade unions, towards the well being of citizens.