It appears that ongoing acrimony within the ranks of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is taking its toll on membership with a dramatic falloff in numbers by more than 30 per cent in the last two years, a source within the public sector trade union has revealed.
“We are really seeing a steep drop in membership and I can’t say why, but the problem was especially acute when all the infighting between the president and the General Secretary, Roslyn Smith, got into the public domain. The question marks over the use of the union’s credit cards, which also became public last year, did not help. Also, I believe the Government layoffs have also contributed to the fall in numbers,” the source revealed.
In the latest public spat, five days after the union which she served for 47 years officially announced her retirement, 65-year-old Smith is now alleging unfair dismissal and is claiming close to half of a million dollars in compensation. The source noted that there is concern at the union about what this latest dramatic twist is going to mean for the already dwindling enrollment numbers.
Barbados TODAY understands that membership has now slumped to just below 7,000, this after NUPW president Akanni McDowall claimed last year that the union had regained thousands of members between 2015 to 2017.
However, the source said that the enrollment now tells a worrying story of an organisation in decline, as the union was now at a lower ebb than where it was in 2013 to 2014 following the Freundel Stuart administration’s layoff of 3,000 workers.
In March 2018, at the opening ceremony of the NUPW’s 74th annual conference at the union’s headquarters at Dalkeith Road, St Michael, McDowall said of his tenure, which began in 2015: “I am pleased to report that despite the challenges aforementioned and the negative impact resulting from the layoffs and retirees, that membership is once again on the increase. For example, the union has attracted approximately 2,000 workers between 2015-2017,” the NUPW boss said of the union, which he claimed at the time boast of a membership of 10,000.
Barbados TODAY made several attempts to contact the president and acting General Secretary Delcia Burke but all were unsuccessful.
However, a top official at the NUPW, who also did not want to be identified, rushed to the defence of the organisation, noting that while membership numbers have indeed fallen to just under 7,000, the slide did not happen overnight as some would suggest. The source noted that while they can’t rule out the apparent lack of unity at the top as a cause, retirements have also played a role in the low numbers.
“I will not fool you by saying that a few persons have not become disillusioned and have dropped out, but this is not a sudden exodus of people. Globally since the economic meltdown of 2008, there has been a slide in trade union membership around the world. One just has to look at the labour statistics of union density. People would want to say that it is because of this little thing that happened in the paper recently, but it happened gradually,” the source explained.
Additionally, the source noted that the NUPW was not the only trade union that was struggling and accused the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) of attempting to poach membership from the public sector because they were struggling just as badly.
“The BWU is now trying to go after the public service, which is really our area. So from what I am hearing, they are really struggling, and one should really ask how things are over there. We also have to
blame our communication because when persons retire, they often don’t know that they could stay in the union for half of the subscription fee,” the union official explained.