Though welcoming the news that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart had agreed to a meeting in principle of the Social Partnership at the request of the island’s private sector, the leading trade unions continue to question his failure to set a date for the talks.
General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) Toni Moore said earlier today the unions were yet to receive a response from Government to their proposals presented on July 6 and July 11 for a reduction in the contentious National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
Drawing reference to a planned August 18 meeting of the Social Partnership, Moore said the unions were of the view that “while a meeting at any time may be suitable, given the urgency of the situation, given the pressing circumstances confronting our country”, more urgency was needed.
“Our people are unable to cope with the measures that have been instituted. There needs to be more urgent and definite action being taken to make sure that we can get ourselves out the hole that we are in, in a manner that everybody can commit to working towards getting out of that hole.”
President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY though government had totally different interests, they [the unions] were unified by the plight of the workers, whom he said could not carry the burden of taxes and fees imposed by Government.
“They are suffering daily. They are unable to meet their basic needs even though they are working. We have to consider the daily stress and trauma being experienced daily by the workers of Barbados.
“The time for promises made through various principles has long passed and the unions are in no way comforted by the offer of a ‘meeting in principle’. We have asked several times for meetings to discuss many principles affecting workers since God knows when. This is not the time for vague statements and so far empty promises,” McDowall stressed.
Meantime, the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) has called the wider business community to an urgent meeting tomorrow morning at 11, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre
In a release, it said it was seeking “an urgent consultation” on the fiscal path being taken by Government and to promote alternative ideas.
“The objectives of the meeting are to update members on the efforts and recommendations of the BPSA, to seek a mandate to campaign for deeper dialogue on our country’s Medium Term Fiscal Strategy and any other matters raised by members,” the statement said.
The meeting has been called as the BWU, the NUPW, along with the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and the Barbados Union of Teachers, continue to “up d ting” – a reference now being linked to stepped up industrial action.
A sick out was today ordered as the row between the unions and Government deepened over the contentious National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and other taxes announced in the May 30 Budget.
Investigations by Barbados TODAY indicate that among the departments affected by today’s action were the Central Bank of Barbados, The National Insurance Scheme, Customs & Excise and the Immigration Department.
The unions notified their members via a WhatsApp message last night that they were “upping de ting” with sick-out action planned for Wednesday and Thursday in a bid to pressure the Freundel Stuart administration to grant immediate relief from the levy, which was increased from two per cent to ten per cent on July 1. This message was being circulated by shop stewards last night.
The stepped-up action comes after a 48-hour ultimatum to Government expired last Thursday without a response from the Prime Minister.
The unions led workers in a walk for relief to Parliament last week Tuesday.
Since then members of the unions have been engaging in a work-to-rule and a go-slow with limited effect.
Meantime, port workers were off the job today in a row with the Barbados Port Inc (BPI) over what they said was a move away from established convention.
From around 8.40 a.m. workers walked off the job protesting a decision by BPI to have armed coast guard officers, instead of reserves and casual workers, tie up the cruise vessel Carnival Fascination when it docked this morning.
The move by the port was prompted by a sick-out by the original mooring gang.
“This morning there was a situation where workers from one department, the mooring gang, called in sick and what should ordinarily happen in a situation like that would be to get other gangs to come in. The contact was not made with the second gang nor was there an effort to ensure that casuals, some of whom are seasoned reserves, we have on the outside,” said Moore, whose BWU represents the port workers.
“The port did not follow the process in trying to get other work, but what we saw was a simple no-no in the port where port work is being performed by people who are not port workers. So the Coast Guard was brought in, armed with things that we are not accustomed to seeing in civilized non-hostile environment like the port so that also created a sense of angst among the workers,” Moore explained.
Around 2 p.m., following a meeting with port officials, including Industrial Relations and Human Resources Manager Carl Smith, Acting Harbour Master Carl Gonsalves and Operations Manager Ian Stuart, the workers returned to their jobs.
Moore said the Port had accepted that it had committed an error, and sought to have it corrected.