The Freundel Stuart administration has given its strongest indication yet that it is willing to increase the $49 million lump sum offer which it recently made to the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) as a coping subsidy.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Civil Service Alyson Forte today revealed that the offer put on the table in early December was not Government’s final position, but was advanced “just for discussion”.
When the two sides met last month the ministry offered the union the lump sum coping subsidy, which the NUPW, along with the other major unions had been demanding to help their members cope with the rising cost of living.
Forte today explained there were two offers, one of which was a two per cent rise, or $3,000, for those at the higher end of the scale and five per cent or $1,000, for those at the lower end.
The other offer, he said, was for two per cent across the board, which would equate to those at the higher end getting $3,000 and those at the lower end of the salary scale getting only $400.
However, the union roundly rejected the Government proposal, demanding instead $60 million, which would equate to $2,500 across the board, in addition to a 23 per cent wage hike.
“I had made it clear that a one-off payment would not be a final position, but just something for my principles to look at [and] we would continue salary negotiations later. So until I get a mandate from my principles that we are not continuing salary [talks] I would continue to meet. But as I said, I am waiting right now for that mandate from my principles,” Forte said on the periphery of the 5th technical working group meeting of the Caribbean Leadership Project at Accra Beach Hotel.
“They went ahead and met with their group and came with what they considered to be a counter to what I had offered. I submitted that to my principles and in due course I will get back to them on what my principles had said on that, [but] it was just for discussion. There was no mandate from my principles, [but] in the coming weeks I will make it clear, once I have a mandate from my principles, where we are going in terms of salary negotiations,” he emphasized.
The NUPW’s attempt to pressure the administration into completing salary negotiations by January 15 ended in failure, which prompted it to summon an unsuccessful two-day national shutdown.
The Permanent Secretary today said while the two sides have been discussing non-salary matters, he was awaiting word from Stuart on the union’s demand for a 23 per cent pay rise before resuming talks.
“In relation to the wages and salary I am awaiting a final mandate from the Minister with responsibility for the public service, which is the Prime Minister. Once I get that mandate I would then either invite the unions to give them that update or I will otherwise send out a letter telling them what that particular mandate is. But we have had ongoing talks with the NUPW in relation to those non-salary items and they are quite a few, but in time you will know what they are,” Forte said when asked to provide an update on Government’s position regarding the NUPW’s salary demands.
The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) has also been pressing Government for a pay rise for its public sector members, demanding a 15 per cent increase.
Forte suggested that the BWU was being less forceful in its demands because once it recognized that the ministry was dealing with a number of non-salary issues relating to NUPW members, “it said go ahead and meet with the NUPW with your non-salary and once you have a mandate from your principles then we will come back in”.
“So far I have not had a mandate from my principles so that is why I have not really engaged the other two unions as such,” the senior public servant said in relation to the BWU and the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Association, which also has a proposal on the table.