The dispute between the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) over whether some recently-retrenched workers are due severance through the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) is being kicked upstairs to a higher level of Government after a five-hour meeting.
It wrapped up around 7 p.m. at the BWA Headquarters at the Pine, BWU consultant Sir Roy Trotman revealed that because of the implications that a decision could have on other areas of the public sector, the BWA hierarchy decided to refer the matter to central Government for guidance.
He told reporters that while the BWA understands the union’s position, they were not willing to accept any culpability in the dispute.
“The Barbados Water Authority understands what we are saying; they made the point, however, that they . . . are of the view that this is a position for which they are not to be held blame-worthy and even if there were . . . [it] is something that would possibly apply to other public servants as well and that they would want to take greater advisement on this,” said the long-time union leader.
Sir Roy said the question of the BWA’s liability to pay severance “is one on which there are not totally satisfied and that they would have to get better advice from their principals”.
He told reporters that the union acknowledges that the matter is complex, and therefore would take some time to resolve, but he did not state just how long the BWU was prepared to wait.
Retrenched BWA workers are barred by law from claiming any NIS unemployment benefits because they were specifically excluded under the National Insurance and Social Security Act.
Section 12 of the Act, which sets out the categories of workers who should be insured, a number of individuals are exempt from being paid benefits: judges, teachers who work at older secondary schools who are pensionable under the Secondary Schools Pensions Act, employees, other than casual workers of the National Housing Corporation, the Barbados Community College, Erdiston Teachers’ Training College and the Barbados Water Authority.
The inclusion of BWA workers in the exempt category was made when the NIS Act was amended in 2006.
While not challenging the specifics of the legislation, Sir Roy contends that the water authority was duty-bound to inform those workers where they stood in relation to the legal position when they were first hired.
“We are of the view that those persons who were working for the water authority – if there were engaged in circumstances where they would have their pensions organized, where they did not have to pay until their unemployment or into their employment fund or severance . . . ought to have been advised about that in their employment particulars at the point of their entry into service,” he said.
He further argued that precedent was on the workers’ side as there are examples as recent as three years ago, where workers in the same categories were paid unemployment benefits from the NIS.
“National Insurance Act originally in 1967, did make provision for persons in the public service to be exempt from paying contributions for severance payment, for unemployment benefits and indeed for sickness,” Sir Roy noted.
“In the roll-out of relations over the years, there have been people, who were casuals working in the public service and when they became unemployed or laid off, they did receive unemployment benefits,” he stressed.