It’s back to the drawing board for top officials of the island’s largest public sector trade union, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), after its announced two-day national shutdown, aimed at getting Government to accede to its pay demands, fizzled.
From all reports, Government services continued to operate normally, despite the NUPW’s call for “two days of protest and resistance”, with its membership all but failing to answer the protest call.
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who has responsibility for the civil service, is yet to comment on the situation.
However, after warning the union earlier this week that this was not the time for any “selfish action” because the country could not afford a salary increase for public workers due to the challenging economic situation, Minister of Housing Denis Kellman today praised the island’s civil servants, saying their response to the NUPW’s call was a clear indication that Government’s investment in education had not been wasted.
“Civil servants would have benefited from free secondary school education, they would have benefited from the technology, they are quite aware of what is going on in the world,” Kellman said this afternoon.
He also contended that having received an offer for a $49 million lump sum as a coping mechanism, public servants would have been surprised by their union’s call for industrial action.
“Something seems wrong with the communication between the union and the workers. The question must be asked, if the union was depriving them of what the Government had offered,” the minister stressed.
When Barbados TODAY took to the streets this morning to assess the effect of the strike, it appeared to be business as usual at the Bridgetown Port where Immigration and Customs had been functioning normally.
In fact, one customs officer declared: “What we gine strike for? If the Government brek, how we gine get paid?”
A stone’s throw away, container trucks were seen flowing in and out through the north gate, with a customs official telling Barbados TODAY it was business as usual.
This was backed up by a trucker who said nothing had changed either yesterday and today, and that operations were normal.
Over at the main gate of the port, it was a hive of activity as hundreds of tourists who came here on three cruise liners, flooded the streets leading to The City.
At the Treasury building in the heart of Bridgetown, workers employed by the Barbados Revenue Authority occupied the facility, which houses the Treasury Department.
However, no one was on the first floor today, and it was not immediately clear if this had anything to do with the strike call or the separate issue related to the environmental problems at the Treasury Department.
On the ground floor, there were only two cashiers at their posts today.
Barbados TODAY also visited the Wharf Road headquarters of the Immigration Department where a security guard said the officers were on duty, but not in full force.
Workers there, who are protesting the environmental conditions at Careenage House, were due to begin working half day while they wait to be relocated to new offices at the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc car park.
At the 600-strong National Conservation Commission, Acting General Manager Michael Thompson told Barbados TODAY there were no reports of absentees, and as was the case yesterday, operations were running smoothly.
Meantime, there were no visible signs of a strike or go-slow at Grantley Adams International Airport late this morning, with one airport security official expressing surprise that there was industrial action in the first place.
Employees of the state-owned Transport Board were not part of the strike because they are represented by the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), whose General Secretary Toni Moore said yesterday that while the BWU supported the NUPW’s cause for a pay hike, her union did not have a mandate from its membership to take industrial action.
Meanwhile, former senior trade unionist Robert Bobby Morris today suggested that the leadership of the NUPW needed to consider other options, particularly in light of the tough economic situation facing Government.
Morris, a former deputy general secretary of the BWU, advised all trade unions to return to the drawing board and review their traditional fight for pay rises, given that Government was experiencing hard times.
“All the Caribbean countries are going through the same thing, especially the public sector trade unions. All of them are finding that governments are finding it difficult to meet that old standard. So perhaps we have to go back to the drawing board,” he recommended.
Morris also suggested that trade union leaders may need to negotiate with their own members who demand that industrial action be taken to press governments to meet pay demands they simply could not afford, saying there was a need for the leaders to explain the bigger picture to their members, and the implications of industrial action.
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.
The NUPW is currently demanding both the coping subsidy and a 23 per cent pay rise from Government, which has not moved from its offer of zero per cent.
In light of the poor response to its call-out order, the union is expected to regroup and determine its next move.