It now seems inevitable that workers at two statutory corporations will be off the job in the not too distant future.
This as a bitter pay dispute between management of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Barbados Workers’ Union remains deadlocked.
Amid feverish last ditch efforts by the Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer -Suckoo to broker an agreement this morning, both sides appeared to be digging in their heels, with the BWU today threatening to call out its members at the neighbouring Barbados Water Authority (BWA) headquarters over the vexed issue of payment of outstanding increments.
As the CBC workers picketed the compound of the state broadcaster this morning, there were loud shouts of “speak the truth” after the corporation’s management issued a statement in its evening newscast on Tuesday night to the effect that while workers may be legally entitled to receive increments, such payments must fall within the existing salary scales.
Management is however contending that any payments outside of the existing scales would be “tantamount to salary increases”, which, according to Section 20 (c) of the CBC Act, can only be granted by the minister responsible, which in this case is Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
At a press conference this afternoon, CBC Chairman Peter Earle also reported that the strike, which is now into its third day, has had limited effect on the operations of the state broadcaster with only 25 per cent of workers currently off the job and the radio, television and cable station’s programming largely unaffected.
“The three radio stations remain on air with some periods automated while TV 8 has made some adjustment to its schedule, including temporary breaks to Mornin’ Barbados and the Midday News. [However], because the vast majority of staff has not joined the industrial action we have been able to maintain our customer service operations for MCTV [Multi-Choice TV].
“TV 8 has been able to maintain its major Evening News product and our three radio stations continue to function,” said Earle, while doubling down on the corporation’s position that persons at the top of the pay scale would not benefit from the deal brokered with the union.
However, when pressed by Barbados TODAY, the CBC chairman admitted that the threat of escalated industrial action was cause for concern.
“I can’t predict [the impact], but it would put some pressure on us, but I believe that the position that we hold is a reasonable one. I don’t know of any place where persons get additional increments once they are at the top. For us to agree to that is going to set a serious precedent in Barbados. It just does not happen,” he insisted.
However, based on an agreement reached under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour, both the BWU and its members are accusing Government of not honouring its side of the bargain, which was for the pay deal to be implemented across-the-board.
As a result CBC workers who are already at the top of their pay scales, were both surprised and disappointed to learn when they received their pay packs on Tuesday that they would not be benefiting from the latest pay deal, triggering an immediate work stoppage.
Speaking from the frontline of today’s action which was also supported by two BWA shop stewards, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore again lamented that an almost identical scenario had occurred at the water authority “when an agreement was reached last year in a meeting at Government headquarters”.
However, Moore told Barbados TODAY that “to date there are aspects of that agreement that the BWA has not honoured. In fact, they wrote recently that there are aspects of that agreement that they have no intention of honouring [and] in our view that represents a fundamental departure.”
Therefore, Moore said while she was aware of the minister’s efforts to find a solution to the latest impasse at CBC, the BWU had not received “any official word of a meeting or any indication that such a step is forthcoming” and was simply not prepared to back down from its stance on the matter.
“All we can say is that [the executive council of] Barbados Workers’ Union met at Solidarity House [last night] and approved further industrial action to vindicate the workers of CBC and we are sticking to that until,” she said, while stressing that the union was prepared to take whatever action was necessary to have the issue resolved, including calling out all BWU divisions if required.
Moore further warned that unless Government honours its original agreement to the workers of both CBC and the BWA, protest action could hit both statutory corporations sooner rather than later.
Back in March 2016, workers at the BWA downed tools for a week over the issue of increments.
The standoff came to an end after the BWU struck an undisclosed deal with the BWA management following a six-hour meeting chaired by Byer-Suckoo.