The membership of the island’s largest public sector trade union in the labour movement’s umbrella body is hanging by a thread, as the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is threatening to sever ties with the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB).
Barbados TODAY understands the matter will be tabled at the union’s council meeting tomorrow, and, if approved, the NUPW will cease to belong to CTUSAB, making it the second major trade union to leave the grouping since it was launched in 1995.
Neither Akanni McDowall, the union’s president, nor Roslyn Smith, the general secretary, would discuss the proposed divorce, which would almost certainly mean the NUPW would also lose its place in the Social Partnership, a tripartite entity designed to serve as a problem solving mechanism aimed at reducing social and industrial unrest in the country.
However, a source familiar with developments in the union told Barbados TODAY the rift stemmed from CTUSAB’s refusal to back the NUPW’s two-day strike in January, which was aimed at pressuring the Freundel Stuart administration into acceding to the union’s pay demands.
The source also said there was a widely held view among the NUPW top brass that the CTUSAB leadership allowed politics to cloud their judgement.
“Obviously, I don’t know what is going to be decided, but I can tell you that many members of the NUPW believe that the leadership of CTUSAB is too political. So while it is good be part of an organization like that, we have to question whose interest are these people serving,” the source said.
After the NUPW called out its members in January, CTUSAB stated unequivocally that its membership would have nothing to do with the anti-Government demonstration.
“CTUSAB has no mandate from its members for any action and that is not being contemplated. Our approach is to understand or try to come to grips with the economic straits this country is in, and to seek within that understanding what is best for the country and our members. That is something we can arrive at through [the] process of dialogue and communication. We don’t believe we can arrive at that by confrontation,” Cedric Murrell, the grouping’s president, had said in a radio interview.
This afternoon CTUSAB General Secretary Dennis Depeiza told Barbados TODAY he had heard rumours of the possible split, but his organization had not received official communication from the NUPW.
He also suggested that any dispute between the two organizations should be settled internally.
“In any family there will always be difficulties and like any family any issues that its members have should be dealt with among ourselves. We have a system in place to deal with issues. Our constitution provides for special committees to which such matters are directed and they are dealt with in the prudent way following all of the traditions of equity, fairness and justice that deal with due process,” said Depeiza, who flatly refused to comment on reports that the NUPW had stop paying its membership dues to the umbrella body.
“I am not going . . . to the public domain to discuss matters that are specifically related to the membership of CTUSAB. To my mind that is unethical and unprofessional,” Depeiza said.
As to mitigating any possible fallout from losing its largest member, the general secretary said his organization would cross that bridge when it got to it.
“You can only deal with something when it happens. I cannot sit down here and speculate about the level of impact or fallout, we just have to deal with it if it happens,” he stressed.
Five years ago the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) quit CTUSAB, contending there was a conspiracy against it by the umbrella body and the Ministry of Labour,as one of the reasons for its action.
Then BWU General Secretary Sir Roy Trotman said at the time, his union’s decision to cut ties with CTUSAB “was simply put, in an effort to prevent a deliberate effort to marginalize the Barbados Workers’ Union and to prevent this trade union . . . from exercising the voice we have used effectively over more than 70 years to develop the cause of workers in both the public sector and in the private sector”.
And while the BWU has since returned to the Social Partnership, it has not reconciled with the grouping.