President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall is firing back at recent claims that the unions in this country were on the decline under the current crop of leaders.
McDowall contends that union membership across the world has been on the decline for the last two decades and Barbados has not been immune from this trend.
“Membership density has been decreasing over from as far back as 1996, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Other than in a closed shop situation, a trade union is a voluntary organisation, and members are free to choose to join or not to join, even though they would enjoy all the benefits that are won through negotiations and or fighting for the rights of workers,” McDowall explained.
Last Friday, former Deputy General Secretary of the NUPW Derek Alleyne, said he was concerned that the apparent internal struggles of the individual unions in Barbados are hindering these organisations from their mandate of protecting workers’ rights.
Alleyne, who was speaking during the Astor B Watts lunchtime lecture as part of a two-man panel, which also included former ambassador to CARICOM, Robert ‘Bobby’ Morris, charged that there was now a lack of confidence in the trade union movement and the current leadership.
In his remarks, he contended that while heralded trade union leaders like Sir Frank Walcott “stood tall for labour despite being a member of a political party,” the same type of dedication to workers’ rights cannot be attributed to the current crop of union leaders. He argued the unions were losing the trust of their members, hence why enrollment numbers were on the decline.
However, McDowall argued when Alleyne was second in command at the NUPW, according to the ILO stats, membership numbers were on the decrease as well, making the point that enrollment numbers were not an adequate yardstick for measuring confidence in union leadership.
“So, if we take this argument to its logical conclusion the membership of the NUPW decreased even when Derrick Alleyne was Deputy General Secretary at the union. The unions in Barbados have not escaped this worldwide phenomenon,” he explained.
Last month Barbados TODAY reported that the ongoing acrimony within the ranks of the NUPW may be taking its toll on membership with a dramatic falloff in numbers by more than 30 per cent in the last two years, according to a source.
The source revealed, “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.”
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.
In his written response, McDowall made it clear that this was no indictment on his stewardship and pointed to the fact that he was re-elected earlier this year, despite these concerns playing out in the public domain.
“Over the last four years, the membership at the NUPW has fluctuated with increases and decreases. At present, we are fluctuating between 8000 and 9000 members. Additionally, if the membership was disgruntled they would have come out in droves to ensure that my re-election campaign was unsuccessful. Clearly this did not happen,” he said.
He added, “It has been four months since the election results. Alleyne’s efforts as a seasoned trade unionist would be best spent on defending the rights of workers and not on making baseless criticisms of the governance of NUPW and the other unions. There is no evidence to suggest that there has been a greater than usual fall-off in membership because of any alleged infighting.”