A national shutdown order issued by this island’s largest public sector trade union appeared today to have had a rather lukewarm effect on the state sector with all major Government services remaining open for business.
From early this morning the state-run Transport Board’s bus service was up and running and while truckers at the Bridgetown Port reported a late start to operations there, both the island’s air and seaports suffered little to no noticeable disruption, amid the national protest by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) over a breakdown in talks for a 23 per cent salary increase and other pay demands.
It was also business as usual at Warrens Tower, the Treasury Building – which includes the offices of the Barbados Revenue Authority – and at Baobab Tower, which houses Government’s statistical services, as well as departments of commerce and the corporate registry.
However, some secondary schools were affected with Combermere forced to shut its doors early at 11:45 a.m. due to the unavailability of teaching staff. As members of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) showed strong solidarity with the NUPW, operations at The Ellerslie School, Lodge School and Grantley Adams Memroial were also impacted.
With that said, NUPW officials, who were quiet all day, offering no public comment, privately indicated that they were preparing to ramp up action tomorrow in their desperate bid to get Government to meet their pay demands, even as their sister union, the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), appeared to have taken a more conciliatory stance in the ongoing pay dispute.
In a statement released this afternoon, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore said her union supported the NUPW in principle but stopped short of offering its support to the current strike action.
“The Executive Council would not wish for our silence to be regarded as being antipathetic or unsympathetic to the cause of the National Union of Public Workers, nor would we want to be aligned to any alternative views or motives that are being brandished within other circles. The BWU agrees with the NUPW’s statement that public servants deserve better. And of course, that ‘better’ continues to shift as the pressure of increased taxes and the cost of living is felt more with each passing month,” Moore said.
She explained that the BWU, which has been pressing Government for a 15 per cent pay increase for its members in the civil service, and the NUPW, had been negotiating separately with the Ministry of the Civil Service, and while the NUPW was given a mandate from its members to give Government a January 15 deadline to conclude the protracted wage talks, the BWU had received no such instructions from its membership.
“Reports are that the NUPW received a mandate from its members on December 27, 2017 to conclude negotiations by January 15, 2018. The BWU has had no such mandate,” Moore stated, while emphasizing the fact that the two unions have been negotiating separately for a revised collective agreement for public servants.
“Since June 23, 2017, the BWU gave way for the Ministry of the Civil Service to negotiate with the NUPW toward having their terms and conditions settled until the Ministry of the Civil Service received a mandate to discuss money. The reasons for this were simple – the BWU has only money and appointments on the table; the NUPW had several other proposals that were up for discussion,” she explained.
Contending that the unpopular the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) which increased from two per cent to ten per cent effective July last year would drastically increase the cost of living by at least 15 per cent, the NUPW, along with the BWU, the BSTU and the Barbados Union of Teachers, had demanded a “coping subsidy” for public servants until the completion of salary negotiations.
The levy was part of a $542 million austerity budget presented by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler last May, which also included the introduction of a two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions and increases in the duties on petrol.
Back then NUPW President Akanni McDowall had stressed that Government’s attempt to keep the struggling economy afloat by injecting over $500 million in taxes would diminish the spending capacity of already financially strained households.
“The union further recognizes that the hike in the social responsibility levy from two per cent to ten per cent will result in across the board increases in the price of food, other necessity items and further diminish the spending capacity of its members and the wider public . . . . These measures cut at the core of the functioning of every household in Barbados, some of which are already under extreme pressure,” McDowall had said.
When the NUPW last met with the Ministry of the Civil Service 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. This led to the current stalemate in which Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who is the minister responsible for the civil service, remains mum.
With the NUPW currently demanding both the coping subsidy and the 23 per cent pay rise from Government, which has not moved from its offer of zero per cent, the BWU general secretary today made it clear her union was not interested in any “token” lump sum.
“The public should be aware that the BWU has never stopped insisting on an actual increase in wages and salaries, rather than on any token lump-sum payment; for it is our view that a lump sum would give workers instant gratification for a weekend and return them to the same position in the following week.
“The BWU understood from our meeting in June last year with the Prime Minister that by October 2017, Government would have been in a position to make a wages and salaries offer based on revenue intake from the National Social Responsibility Levy for the three-month period July to September.
“The BWU recognizes that, even where a modest increase is applied to wages and salaries, it will apply week on week or month on month and thus contribute to our national economic activity and of course, it will be of lasting value to all public servants and will improve their pensions,” Moore stressed.