The rejection by the membership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) of a proposal by Government in 2013 for a five per cent cut in public servants’ salaries led to the retrenchment of 3,000 civil servants and placed up to 6,000 jobs at risk, Walter Maloney, the former union president, has revealed.
In a wide-ranging interview with Barbados TODAY in which he responded to criticisms from his successor, Akanni McDowall, Maloney said the members had been selfish to reject the offer because they knew the jobs of their colleagues were at stake.
“We had a meeting of the general body when people were going to be sent home and there were two things we put on the table then,” the retired union boss said.
“It was either that we were going to strike or we were willing to take a five per cent cut so that we could keep people employed. “I heard persons who are now jumping up and down and using their voices to excite people. These are the same persons who said, ‘no, let them go home because I am not taking any money from my salary to keep anybody employed’. People said that,” Maloney charged in response to McDowall’s contention at the opening ceremony last week of the NUPW’s 74th annual conference that members had lost confidence in the NUPW under Maloney’s presidency, which resulted in thousands leaving the union.
Maloney told Barbados TODAY it was he who had lost confidence in what the NUPW had come to stand for after the Government’s proposal was rejected.
As a matter fact, he said it was for this very reason that he stepped down after ten years at the helm of the island’s largest public sector trade union.
“I remember turning to [former NUPW General Secretary Dennis [Clarke] and telling him that it is time for me to leave the organization because this is not the reason why I joined the NUPW. The reason I joined the trade union movement was because I thought that everybody was working in conjunction with one another,” Maloney said, while going on to explain that the only other option available at the time was to negotiate with Government to retrench 3,000 workers instead of the 6,000 that had been recommended by the International Monetary Fund.
“The idea is to work together that if something happens to one, the rest try to find a solution to the problem. We felt that the five per cent cut was one of the solutions to keep young people employed because if you remember, the majority of people that went home were young people. But when I heard people say, ‘not me’ I knew it was the end for me.”
However, McDowall today refuted the claims of his predecessor, insisting that the NUPW had never received any such offer in writing from Government.
He pointed out that any pay cuts would have had to be voluntary, as the salaries of civil servants were constitutionally protected since the vexing eight per cent cut at the height of an economic crisis in 1991.
The cuts by the then Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) – led Democratic Labour Party administration, sparked massive protests, which led to the establishment of the Social Partnership.
McDowall also told Barbados TODAY the meeting to which Maloney referred did not take place as far as he was aware.
“What I can tell you is that we have nothing in writing from the Ministry of the Civil Service regarding such an offer. I can also state that the NUPW has no record, nor can I recall such a discussion taking place,” McDowall stressed.
It was in December 2013 that Government announced it would cut public service jobs in a bid to save $143 million.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler said at the time the Freundel Stuart administration would also institute a “strict programme of attrition” across the central public service, filling posts only where it was absolutely unavoidable, over the five-year period ending 2018-2019.
As part of the fiscal stabilization, Sinckler had also announced that Government would reduce, by ten per cent, the salaries of ministers, Government legislators, parliamentary secretaries, and those considered to be a “political appointee”. Those salaries have since been restored to pre-austerity levels.