President of the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) Pedro Shepherd Monday said his union wanted to “bring this Government to its knees” to force the administration to the negotiating table.
Shepherd told protesting workers at the end of a march against Government’s austerity measures that was the reason the BUT had joined the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, the Barbados Workers’ Union, the National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Private Sector Association in Monday’s demonstration.
The BUT head also said his members were tired of being disrespected by the Ministry of Education, and had gone too long without a pay rise.
“We joined in this action because our existence as a trade union is under severe threat. We joined because teachers are citizens of Barbados and are overtaxed. We have joined because we have had to fight too hard for respect from our employers, the Ministry of Education next door. We joined because we too have not had a salary increase from since 2010 and our purchasing power has been eroded by at least 12 per cent.
“We joined because we care about Barbados and we also join in this action with our sister unions because the trade unions in this country ought to be treated as partners. Brothers and sisters, unity is strength and no one union can do it alone. Each one of us here represented today has tried to engage Government departments and ministries individually and collectively to be treated with arrogance and dismissive behaviour from senior public officers including Minister of the Crown [Minister of Education Ronald Jones],” he stressed.
Referring to Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss who had ridiculed a recent march by the unions as a weight loss exercise, Shepherd said there was a clear mission “that we are going to achieve and that is to bring this Government to its knees and ask it to dialogue with the trade unions, the private sector and the Social Partnership”.
An estimated 20,000 marchers left Queen’s Park and snaked through The City, passing the Treasury Department, the Houses of Parliament and the Central Bank of Barbados before returning to the starting point for its climax.
Several businesses ceased operation to allow workers to join the march aimed at pressuring Government to return to the negotiating table to discuss recent austerity measures outlined in the 2017/2018 Budget.
Shepherd also revealed that his union had been involved in litigation for some time, and has had to fight and agitate for recognition by Government as a stakeholder in education, but he remained undaunted.
“I am not bothered about sitting across the table from PAD [the Personnel Administration Department] or the Ministry of the Civil Service or even the Ministry of Education and negotiating. Some people are looking for continued employment at the expense of the taxpayers so they will speak to Government increasing the already high wage bill. Selfish behaviour!” he said as he countered a recent suggestion by Democratic Labour Party stalwart Robert Bobby Morris that Government needed an independent negotiating team to help address some of the country’s public sector industrial relations issues, including salary negotiations.
“There is no need for no negotiating team, no specialized negotiating team. Tell. . . his Excellency that. Maybe as trade unionists and representatives of workers we can offer solutions to the Government in the area of thrift. Certainly to cut out wastage in Government would help,” he said.