Pay up or else!
This is the latest ultimatum that has been issued by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) to the Freundel Stuart administration following two years of protracted negotiations over a wage increase for public servants.
The NUPW, the island’s largest public sector trade union, has been demanding a 23 per cent pay hike for its members. It has now given the Stuart administration until January 15 to put a firm offer on the table, otherwise it says Government could be faced with a full blown public sector strike.
The development comes amid widespread speculation over when Stuart will announce the date for fresh general elections.
Cognizant that Parliament must be dissolved by the end of March of this year, NUPW President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY that his union was not about squander its chances of securing a salary increase for its members by allowing the matter to drag on until Stuart finally decides to ring the election bell.
In fact, he suggested that failure by the ruling Democratic Labour Party to act on the outstanding pay matter could ultimately determine its fate at the polls.
“We gave the Government until the 15th of this month because if they do not give us a salary increase soon and another party forms the next Government then we will have to start salary negotiations all over again, which could take an additional two years,” the NUPW president said.
While acknowledging that a supplementary vote would be needed to meet its current demand and that it could take some time before the increase gets final approval, he further warned Government that it was running out of time.
“As we all know Parliament dissolves early in March, so we are letting Government know that they need to make a decision by January 15 or face industrial action,” McDowall said.
The NUPW president also revealed that the union’s National Council had met on Thursday and given the green light for any industrial action deemed necessary to ensure that Government accedes to the workers’ demands.
“National Council met on Thursday and approved what the general membership would have instructed the union to do and that is if Government does not come back to the table with a proposal for a salary increase by the 15th of this month, then we will take industrial action,” he said, while insisting that the deadline was a realistic one, as talks had been ongoing for the past two years to no avail.
“This is not something that just started, this is more than two years that we have been negotiating salary increases for public servants. It is just that we are saying now that enough is enough. We have now run out of time for Government to make a decision. This is now or never. They have to make the decision or they never will,” he argued.
The development comes just over a week after Government offered to make a $49 million lump sum payment to civil servants, which was rejected by the NUPW.
Instead, the union is proposing a $60 million lump sum which would allow for an across-the-board $2,500 payment.
However, McDowall made it clear that this was not a substitute for the proposed pay increase, which has been outstanding for the past ten years. In fact, the NUPW wants both matters settled within the next ten days, but as a caveat, McDowall said the union was now willing to put aside demands for a monthly coping subsidy for public servants once the pay increase and the lump sum “coping mechanism” were forthcoming.
Following the presentation of the May 30 Budget by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler the NUPW had joined with the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and the Barbados Union of Teachers in demanding the subsidy as a means of helping public workers cope with the drastic increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy, which rose from two to ten per cent of the customs value of locally produced and imported goods.
However, despite a massive protest last July, which was strongly supported by the private sector, and loud cries for relief from virtually every quarter of society, the Stuart administration has so far refused to budge on the onerous tax measure, which was one of several included in Sinckler’s $542 million austerity package that aims to close the country’s worrying national deficit of five per cent of gross domestic product. [email protected]