On December 27, 2017, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) summoned reporters to its Dalkeith, St Michael headquarters to announce that its members had rejected a proposed coping subsidy offered by the Freundel Stuart administration.
At the time Government was said to be offering $49 million, but the union reported that its membership wanted more – $11 million more to be precise – in terms of a one-off, lump sum payment, which it said was first discussed at a meeting between the union and Government representatives at the office of the Ministry of the Civil Service, before an offer was formally made to it in writing earlier in the month.
And, according to NUPW executives, the way the payment was intended to work was that civil servants at the higher end of the salary scale would receive a two per cent payment while those at the lower end would receive five per cent, based on a sliding scale.
To sweeten the offer, Government had also proposed to make the payments tax free, and had also promised that they would not be subject to any deductions by the National Insurance Scheme, the union had said.
However, the proposal still did not sit well with the NUPW’s executive since, at the end of the day, they said the payment still amounted to less than $2,500 per worker.
Speaking to reporters following what was said to be “a sometimes animated meeting” at the NUPW’s Dalkeith headquarters, attended by approximately 300 of its members, it was suggested by the union’s officials that the Government’s offer was at least $11 million short, with the workers demanding a $2,500 across-the-board payment to carry them over until the completion of protracted wage negotiations.
To quote NUPW General Treasurer Asokore Beckles, who was flanked by other union executives including president Akanni McDowall, at the time, “Coming out of tonight’s members’ meeting we discussed what Government would have proposed to us, which was a sliding scale between two and five per cent. The NUPW members have decided on a counterproposal – the union put forward three [recommendations] to our membership and they have decided to take one of those proposals to the Ministry of the Civil Service to take to the Prime Minister of Barbados.”
He further explained that the union was preparing to dispatch the counterproposal by the following morning, along with a deadline by which Government must respond since “our members are saying that these two years is long enough and they have set a deadline for negotiations to be completed”.
The demand by the union for a $60 million coping subsidy to help public workers cope with the taxing National Social Responsibility Levy and other measures imposed by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30 Budget as part of a $542 million austerity package, came on the back of negotiations for a 23 per cent pay hike.
However, in support of workers’ position, NUPW Acting General Secretary Delcia Burke had sought to explain that even though Government’s offer was in keeping with the union’s demands for a coping subsidy, it simply was not up to mark.
She had pointed that to date the union had only received written scenarios from the Ministry of the Civil Service, which did not constitute a solid offer.
“I think a lot of the problems arose because it was not a firm offer. I think they felt insulted because the Ministry of the Civil Service offered what they called scenarios and in the letter they advised that they would have to take it back to the Prime Minister to have it approved. So as it stands they have not made a firm proposal and the workers felt slighted and insulted because after all this time something concrete should have been on the table,” Burke said at the time.
Fast forward to April 2018 and the union is disease-struck to the point of forgetting all of what has been aforementioned, even taking out a full page press advertisement in a bid to convince itself that it did all it could to safeguard a pay increase for its members when in fact, it might to accept in hindsight that it had immaturely and prematurely outplayed its hand, giving the Freundel Stuart administration an easy way out of the pay talks.
But instead of blaming itself for its own shortcoming, the union attempts to shoot the messenger – and four months after the fact at that.
So all of a sudden, the media got it wrong, the press statement shamelessly suggests.
“The NUPW wants to state categorically that the Government of Barbados NEVER offered an increase in the emoluments for public servants. The NUPW further states that the Government of Barbados NEVER offered a one-off payment to public servants,” the union said in its paid advertisement this week issued in response to questions being asked – no doubt by empty handed members – as to why it did not accept the one-off payment on their behalf.
It is a good thing that tape recorders don’t lie, only humans do. We therefore wait to see how far the union’s embattled executive is willing to go to prove its own folly, following a failed round of pay negotiations with Government and a major flop of a strike back in January that have left them with nothing to show with national elections around the corner.