Government and the unions representing public servants could be back at the bargaining table soon, with the Ministry of the Civil Service today hinting that the Freundel Stuart administration wanted progress made in wages and salary negotiations before the upcoming general election, constitutionally due by June.
Permanent Secretary Alyson Forte told Barbados TODAY he had been given a fresh mandate – which he declined to disclose – that will be sent out to the three main unions – the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) – early next week.
Forte would not say if the pending poll would influence the timing of the resumption of the talks, but he dropped a strong hint that all sides could be back at the negotiating table before the election.
“Elections would have to be at least 21 days away, and I am sure that my mandate . . . will come in less time than that, which should come next week. So it wouldn’t really have any bearing on the elections . . . not from my perspective,” he assured.
Pressed to reveal what he would offer the public workers, Forte called for patience, repeating that “by next week, they will be able to get some feedback as to what my mandate is”.
“I will meet, as I said, with the three workers’ representatives that I normally meet with – the NUPW, the CTUSAB and the BWU. I wouldn’t be able to meet with all of them at the same date . . . and maybe in my communication with them would determine if and when we continue to meet,” the permanent secretary added.
However, the senior public officer stressed that the date for the next talks would be determined by the availability of the individual parties and his own availability, but he was willing to meet soon, particularly if the unions deemed it necessary.
The last time Government met with the NUPW, the administration made a $49 million lump sum offer as a coping subsidy, which the union rejected, demanding instead $60 million and a 23 per cent pay rise.
In late January Forte hinted that the Stuart administration was willing to increase the lump sum, telling Barbados TODAY the offer put on the table in early December was not Government’s final position, but was advanced “just for discussion”.
NUPW Acting General Secretary Delcia Burke today said she would wait and see what happens, considering that the ministry had said there was a mandate on a previous occasion, but nothing had materialized.
BWU General Secretary Toni Moore could not be reached today, but it was only on Tuesday that she called on Government to get back to the negotiating table without further delay to discuss wages and salaries for public officers.
Moore had complained during an interview with Barbados TODAY that Stuart, who is also responsible for the public service, had failed to keep his word to reconvene a meeting with the Social Partnership to assess the performance of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which he had linked to any possible pay rise.
Moore had also expressed concern that there was yet to be a follow-up meeting since the one in held August last year with the full Social Partnership during which the Prime Minister again committed to reviewing at the end of September last year, the performance of the NSRL, which was increased on July 1, 2017 from two per cent to ten per cent of the customs duty of locally produced and imported goods.
She recalled that at both meetings the BWU had given way to the NUPW to begin its negotiations with Government because it had about 20 grievances to discuss, while her union focused on salaries and appointments.
“Where we are now is that we understand that the Ministry of the Civil Service has been allowed to meet with the National Union of Public Workers, where at a meeting they presented a proposal that, for whatever it is worth, represents a response other than what we had been hearing before June, which was, there was no possibility of a salary increase,” Moore had said.