Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development, Donville Inniss wants an apology from the island’s trade unions currently involved in a row with Government over the contentious National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
However, Inniss said the apology should be directed at the membership of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers, the Barbados Workers Union and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which have ordered a go-slow in a bid to force the Freundel Stuart administration to reduce the tax, or offer a coping subsidy.
The minister charged that far from working in the employees’ benefit, the trade unions were “very anti worker [and] perhaps they are the ones that should apologize to their members for some of the things that they have been saying and doing”.
It is a comment that is likely to further antagonize the unions, who are yet to receive a formal response from Stuart to their demands, and who have been expressing a willingness to ‘up de ting’, a reference to stepped up industrial action, unless their demands are met.
Inniss, a former shop steward with the NUPW in the 1990s, repeated the Government’s line that the NSRL, along with the two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions and increases in the excise duty on petrol announced in the May 30 Budget, were necessary to provide Barbadians with “access to good health care, good education, access to law and order and those things as well.
“I think most well-thinking Barbadians appreciate that the State has to raise taxes,” he said.
However, of the unions, he said: “I have always enjoyed the comradery with the union management and the senior leaders, but that does not mean that I can’t call a spade a spade when I think the union leaders are going astray, and in my mind are not acting in the best interest of the workers.
“Now you march and you get militant because you want Government to remove a levy. But there is still great ambiguity about what it is the unions are proposing as an alternative to the levy because you know that the State has to raise funds to pay the salaries of your members of the union, who are employed in the public service. If the State is now deprived as an income stream to pay your members, then what happens?” Inniss queried.
However, Opposition legislator Gline Clarke has defended the unions’ right to protest, with the Member of Parliament for St George North telling Barbados TODAY the workers’ representatives had to do what was necessary to get their message across.
“If they see that there’s a need for them to ‘up d ting’ as they put it, once it has been cleared with their membership . . . in a free democracy like Barbados, workers have the right to protest in their own way, in a legal manner . . . [for] out of protest change will come,” he said.