President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall says he is not about to apologize for the stance trade unions have taken in their current industrial impasse with Government.
Amid a worrying sick-out that has so far affected operations at both major ports of entry, as well as the state-run Transport Board and the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation, McDowall accused Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of forcing the trade unions’ hand in the matter, by refusing to budge on their demands for relief from the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
The NUPW maintains that the recent increase in the NSRL from two per cent to ten per cent is simply too onerous for its membership to bear and has been pressing for either a 50 per cent roll back on the measure or for Government to grant workers relief in the form of a coping susidy.
“We gave the Government a 48-hour deadline to which they had to respond and we never received a response, so what we decided to do, as promised, was to ‘up de ting’ and we are upping de ting,” McDowall told Barbados TODAY.
At the same time, the NUPW leader stopped just short of publicly taking responsibility for the latest protest, which also involves members of the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union.
“I have received some reports that some members are just sick. I don’t know why but I could come up with a number of reasons why they could be sick,” he said when asked if his union was reponsible for the action.
“I can understand why workers feel sick today and I truly and genuinely sympathize with them, and I want to wish them well too,” the NUPW president added, while turning the blame on Government.
“The responsibility cannot at this time be on us. It cannot be on the unions. The unions would have done everything that is possible to make sure that we have an amicable solution to this problem. The problem now rests with the Government. The responsibility now rests with the Government,” he stressed.
“Government now has to show that they are willing to lead this process and they have to come out, we have made our demands, they have to come out and make sure they resolve this situation,” he added.
Amid calls today by the private sector for the unions to end the sick-out, McDowall insisted that the workers’ representatives had been transparent in terms of their demands. He also rejected suggestions that the unions were working with the business leaders to topple the Democratic Labour Party administration.
“I think the problem here is with the Government. So yes, I believe that if the Government is able to see the plight of workers, if the Government is able to treat workers or see workers as a priority, all of what we have going on now would not have happened in the first place. But, I am afraid that this Government, quite frankly, does not see workers as a priority and that is why at this time we have to take the stance we are taking,” he explained.
The union president also responded to a call made by Government minister Donville Inniss this week for the unions to apologize to their the members “for some of the things that they have been saying and doing”.
In dismissing the comments made by the Minister of Industry, Commerce, International Business and Small Business Development, McDowall warned that the unions meant business and were not interested in playing games with Inniss, who had earlier suggested that a march for relief would amount to nothing more than weight loss for the unions’ members.
“I would tell Mr Inniss that I don’t have any time to play [and] I don’t think the unions have time to play games with him. We called for an apology from Mr Inniss [and] we thought this was going to be genuine [but] if this is going to be his response, I find it very futile, puerile and immature,” the NUPW boss said.
He implored the minister to “take the situation seriously and recognize that workers in this country must be respected”.