More than 130 public workers could be facing perhaps the largest ever defamation law suit in judicial history in Barbados.
That is because Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Wayne Walrond has engaged the services of an attorney-at-law with the intention of filing a legal challenge against all the 138 signatories to a petition, which is at the centre of a resolution that appears to contain statements of a defamatory nature against him.
The controversial resolution designed to place incumbent president of the union Akanni McDowall into a new Secretary General post, appears to level some serious attacks on Walrond’s leadership.
The resolution – a copy of which has been obtained by Barbados TODAY – is based on a petition spearheaded by member of the union Natalie Murray.
“Any defamatory statements made in that petition, I have been advised, all signatories to the petition are liable to be sued for defamation of character of the acting general secretary…all signatories…I can’t go into it because it is defamatory,” Walrond acknowledged when contacted.
“I have been in discussion with legal counsel on that. I have been advised it is defamation of character,” he added.
The details of the petition imply that Walrond has demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the constitution of the union, which has led to perceived damage to the reputation of the organisation in the eyes of the media and wider public.
The author of the resolution and by extension, the signatories are also unhappy with the behaviour of the Acting General Secretary “which could fuel discord among the staff and membership and lead to the degradation of the union” it claims.
The petitioners also question Walrond’s ability to run the NUPW, referring to a “pervasive pattern,” that is “inept” and which goes hand-in-hand with “disrespect for the membership” and an inadequate representation of the concerns of the membership.
But while the resolution has slammed Walrond’s leadership, it has reserved the highest praise and commendations for union president McDowall.
“The president has demonstrated strong leadership capacity with a high level of knowledge for the constitution and wider local and international issues,” the document stated.
The petitioner also argued that McDowall was now pursuing a PHD in Industrial Relations Management, as evidence that he was expanding his knowledge and strengthening his leadership skillsets.
In seeking to boost the case for the proposed position of Secretary General, the author of the resolution is adamant that McDowall has adequately represented the members of the union for the past six years.
It continued: “Has successfully advocated for the appointment of over 3,000 persons within the civil service; has engaged, empowered and vigorously represented civil servants; and with a show of maturity, skill and focus on the issues affecting the membership, has increased the prestige and respect for the NUPW.”
The creator of the resolution also believes that McDowall is the fit and proper person to lead the union considering that it is changing to move away from the traditional concerns of wages and conditions of work to understanding a wider range of employment issues in a larger economic context.
The petitioners also support the president assuming the new position of Secretary General because they believe the union needs to be more active in the Social Partnership with national employment policy stakeholders and to build coalitions with other like-minded organisations.
The resolution also suggests that with McDowall at the helm, the NUPW would be better-placed to respond to international issues impacting it, including globalization, climate change and the effects of technology.
“The union will have to build capacity and expertise in their organisations so they can be active players all through the policy cycle…and that the new direction of the union would heavily rely on solid policy to be created consistently,” it added.
Barbados TODAY reached out to McDowall for comment and he pushed back hard at Walrond.
“I have faced no-confidence motions before. Never once did I become overwhelmed with self-preservation to want to threaten workers for doing what is within their right as paying members, under the NUPW constitution,” the president declared.
“This is clearly an effort to scare workers from coming out and all I can ask is that they come out in their numbers and vote in support of the resolution,” McDowall stated.
“It would be impossible for Mr Waldron to lead the workers when he has threatened them,” said the president who will be facing the union’s electorate next month. ([email protected])