An urgent plea was made this afternoon for the Freundel Stuart Government to re-open tripartite discussions with local trade unions and the private sector on the vexed issue of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and other contentious measures announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in the May 30Budget.
The appeal was made by President of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA)Charles Herbert, amid an announcement by the island’s four major trade unions – the Barbados Workers’ Union, the National Union of Public Workers, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and Barbados Union of Teachers – that they would immediately embark on a “go slow”, as a first phase of stepped up protest action against Government.
“INDUSTRIAL ACTION has started! Effective immediately there will be a Go Slow within all entities and departments. Following that, there will be a ramping up of ACTION very soon. We ask that you be ready at a moments notice to UP DE TING!!! PLEASE SHARE!!!,” said the public sector unions in a Whatsapp message broadcast to their members this afternoon.
Some union members also confirmed to Barbados TODAY that they had been receiving telephone calls informing them to be “ready at a moment’s notice to ‘up de ting,’” in reference to the slogan being used by the movement as a means of signalling stepped up protests.
However, union officials have so far been tightlipped about the developments, even though BWU General Secretary Toni Moore told Barbados TODAY that the unions’ internal machinery was ready to be activated.
“Whilst we are very much still interested in talking, our machinery of action is in place and we are mobilizing towards our plan. As a trade union movement, we are not going to divulge what that plan is, but we are very clear what our approach is.
“At present, today, still there is the opportunity for dialogue. We would only hope that, if or when there is an overture it would not be at that point [where it is] too late,” she said, while suggesting that next Monday “may be too late”.
Following a 90-minute meeting with the labour representatives, Herbert, who was flanked by the BPSA’s Chief Executive Officer Anne Reid, Executive Director of the Barbados Employers Confederation Tony Walcott and President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Eddy Abed, also stressed the need for an immediate Government response to the unions whose 48-hour ultimatum expired yesterday without any answer forthcoming from the Stuart administration.
On Tuesday, a delegation of four union leaders failed in an attempt to get a desired audience with Stuart in Parliament after they were joined by over 400 members in a ‘walk for relief’ from Queen’s Park to Independence Square. They were therefore forced to drop off at reception, their correspondence to Stuart, which detailed their demands on the NSRL, with Stuart subsequently confirming that he was in receipt of their letter to him.
However, in a statement released via the Barbados Government Information Service the following day, the Prime Minister denied reports that he had refused to meet with all four union leaders, while restating his commitment to working with the trade unions, even though the two sides remain at odds over the imposition of the NSRL and other onerous measures announced in the recent Budget.
Today, Herbert stopped short of saying he supported the stepped up action by the trade unions, but said the private sector shared the unions’ concerns as it relates to the $542 million austerity package announced by Sinckler.
“We have joint concerns over the budgetary measures, including the NSRL. We are continuing to explore areas that we can cooperate with each other to encourage dialogue between the Social Partnership and Government. [And] with that, we are very, very concerned that dialogue seems to have broken down and the unions’ [48-hour] deadline was not met and we urge the Government to commence dialogue with the Social Partners as a matter of urgency,” he said.
He said the BPSA had already reached out to the Prime Minister for an urgent meeting of the Social Partnership but “as of right now he has not made himself available or reached out to us for a meeting”.
And with the union already said to be embarking on a go-slow, Herbert warned that the upcoming
and Caribbean Festival of Creative Arts (CARIFESTA) celebrations could be negatively affected.
“Our members are very concerned. We feel that Kadooment, [which this year is] to be followed by CARIFESTA is a very important time of year and we certainly would not like to see any sort of industrial unrest or disruption of a very important economic time for the island.
“We really urge the Prime Minister to start dialogue and to do his best to avert any disruption of this important season,” Herbert stressed.