The island’s public servants are being warned that a strike will do nothing to get them the 23 per cent pay rise they are demanding.
In a swift reaction to an announcement today by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) that its members would begin a two-day strike tomorrow over pay demands, Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo said industrial action would not move Government from its position because it simply could not afford an increase.
“I don’t know who has advised them but I gather that they believe that this is the way to achieve their goals. Barbados cannot afford this right now but it would be for the persons who were in the negotiations, including to the unions, to determine that they want to discuss other options,” Byer-Suckoo told Barbados TODAY less than an hour after the union ordered its members off the job tomorrow and on Friday.
“Even if they were to take action it is not really going to change the situation in terms of what Government can and cannot afford. Everyone who has been commenting on our economic situation would be well aware that this is an extra cost that Government cannot bear right now. No amount of action is going to change that.”
The NUPW announced today it would call out its members for “two days of protest and resistance” after it failed to force the Freundel Stuart administration to meet its January 15 deadline to conclude protracted wage talks, which have dragged on for about two years.
“Public servants have taken the brunt of this Government’s draconian cost-cutting measures and can take it no more. We deserve better,” the union said in a statement announcing its planned action.
The two sides held preliminary talks in June 2016, from which the leadership of the union had emerged saying it was upbeat about the negotiations.
However, the talks have gone sour since, as Government has stuck to its offer of zero per cent, although when they last met just over a month ago, an offer of a $49 million lump sum coping subsidy was put on the table,
The union roundly rejected the offer, and instead demanded a $60 million lump sum, which would allow for an across-the-board $2,500 payment, to help cope with the rising cost of living occasioned by the much-hated National Social Responsibility Levy announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler last May as part of an austerity budget.
In explaining the rationale for the January 15 deadline, NUPW President Akanni McDowall had told Barbados TODAY his union was cognizant that Parliament must be dissolved by the end of March of this year, therefore civil servants were not about to squander their chances of securing a salary increase by allowing the matter to drag on until Stuart finally decides to ring the election bell.
“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,” McDowall had said.
However, this afternoon Byer-Suckoo took aim at this argument, pointing out that Government was a continuum and that the poor financial state of the public coffers would not change in the short term regardless of which party came to power.
She therefore argued that there was no need to rush the negotiations in the five remaining months before the general election is constitutionally due.
“At the end of the day I don’t know that they would have to start the process all over again [in the event that Government changes] because they are negotiating with the Ministry of the Civil Service, and the fact is that whether it is before elections or after elections, the most significant factor that is affecting the negotiations is the Government’s position financially.
“Regardless of who comes to office the financial situation is not going to change in the short term. Rushing to do this before Parliament is dissolved is not going to ease the purse of the Government at this time,” the minister stressed.