The month-old dispute between the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) over whether some recently retrenched workers are due unemployment benefits through the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), has been settled.
Two weeks ago, Prime Minister Mia Mottley pushed through the necessary changes to the legislation, which had prevented some BWA workers from receiving the vital interim financial support, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore revealed this morning.
“The Prime Minister, who in her capacity as chairman of the Social Partnership, understood the challenge and moved very swiftly on our request to have it addressed. So that went through to an amendment in Parliament and that was agreed to, two Wednesdays ago. Those workers now will have the opportunity to claim unemployment,” Moore explained.
The BWU General Secretary further pointed out that Government’s decision not only impacted the affected BWA workers but all public service workers in similar categories.
“We also made a provision that such a situation should not happen again. So, workers at the water authority and others would now be paying the full amounts into the National Insurance fund. This would ensure that such a situation does not recur,” she said.
Retrenched BWA workers were barred by law from claiming any NIS unemployment benefits because they were specifically excluded under the National Insurance and Social Security Act.
Earlier this month, following a five-hour meeting between the BWA hierarchy and the BWU, the decision was taken to kick the matter up to the level of Government. Following the meeting, BWU consultant Sir Roy Trotman said the water authority was duty-bound to inform workers where they stood in relation to the legal position when they were first hired.
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.
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.
This morning Senator Moore suggested that the legislation had not evolved to reflect the realities of employment within today’s public sector.
“I believe that that goes back to a general thinking that once you were a government worker, you have security for life because a job in the public service was a job for life. But what happens is over time, if you abuse that employment provision and then you have a situation where you’re hiring more than the service really can accommodate you place yourself as a government in a very awkward position,” argued Moore, noting that contrary to accusations from some critics, the BWU had delivered for its workers throughout the retrenchment process.
However, she acknowledged that despite the best intentions going into negotiations, the BWU may sometimes overlook some issues.
“We discussed the separation of a number of workers last month but one of the things that we didn’t adequately cater for, is that the BWA was previously the Barbados Water Works. They fell under the same arrangement as central government, where they didn’t have to pay the full amount of national insurance contribution on a monthly basis or weekly basis. So, it meant that they could not claim certain social security benefits that others who paid the full contribution would,” she explained.