After more than a year of sometimes contentious and bitter negotiations with Government for a pay rise for civil servants, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is reporting that the Freundel Stuart administration has finally budged and has placed an offer on the table.
However, both the NUPW and the Ministry of the Civil Service remained tight-lipped on the offer, which was made when the two sides resumed talks at the ministry today for the first time since August.
“There is indeed a proposal on the table and we need to discuss with our membership first before we disclose to the public what those details are,” NUPW President Akanni McDowall told the media this afternoon.
However, sources familiar with the negotiations told Barbados TODAY that Government was now willing to offer a coping subsidy in the interim, until the two sides can agree a new deal.
The NUPW, which has demanded for a 23 per cent pay hike, has been joined by the Barbados Workers’ Union, which is asking for a 15 per cent increase, as well as the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and the Barbados Union of Teachers, in requesting a subsidy to help public workers cope with the taxing National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and other measures imposed by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his April 30 Budget as part of a $542 million austerity package.
It was not immediately clear if the subsidy will come in a lump sum or paid monthly, or how much has been offered.
While the development represents a departure from Government’s longstanding offer of zero per cent increase, it is still not clear if public workers will accept it.
They were due to meet at 5 p.m. today at the union’s headquarters on Dalkeith Road, St Michael to discuss the proposal, but McDowall said that after the close to four hours of talks with the Ministry of the Civil Service, the “promised written offer” had not reached the NUPW by the scheduled start of the afternoon’s union meeting.
“We had a meeting this morning, the meeting lasted about three [to] four hours and the ministry was able to put something on the table for us to discuss. The union decided that we would bring that proposal back to the membership before we decided whether or not we would agree with it,” McDowall said.
“We told the ministry that we need their proposal [in writing] before we could discuss it with the membership, but unfortunately, up the start of the meeting we had not received that proposal in writing. Therefore, we had no choice but to postpone the meeting until we receive that correspondence,” he added.
The union boss revealed last week that after several months of stalled negotiations, the Ministry of the Civil Service had expressed a willingness to resume talks this week, with an initial date of December 13, but later postponed to today.
The development came after the union dispatched a letter to the ministry back in October in which it stated in no uncertain terms that it would not return to the bargaining table if Government did not budge from its offer of a zero per cent pay increase.
The fact that the ministry requested a resumption of the talks led McDowall to predict that Government would offer “something substantial”.
The Prime Minister had promised at the ruling Democratic Labour Party luncheon on July 23 to review the NSRL at the end of September with a view to determining whether Government would be able to afford the proposed pay hike, or the coping subsidy. It is a position which Stuart repeated during a televised meeting of the Social Partnership at the Hilton Barbados Resort on August 11.
However, nothing was heard from Government following that promise, prompting the NUPW to accuse the Prime Minister of breaking his promise to restart the stalled talks.
The union had also threatened industrial action, saying it had it up to its neck with the administration.
Ahead of today’s offer, the suggestion was also made that it could be construed as a general election gimmick, now that the poll is around the corner.
However, the NUPW boss was adamant that all praise should go the trade union movement for its persistence in this matter.
“I know the Government has refused to give public servants a salary increase even though the unions have shown time and time again that they can afford it. I think any right thinking Barbadian would know that the unions have been constantly fighting for salary increases so any credit for salary increases would have to go to the trade union movement,” McDowall said.