Decision on national strike now rests on Inniss’ shoulders
He has already given his strong backing to the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) in its current impasse with the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
But after the NUPW’s National Council gave its blessing to a threatened national strike, Minister of Industry of Commerce Donville Inniss issued a strong word of caution this evening that he was not prepared to have his office “intimidated by threats by anyone or any entity”.
“I trust that respect for law will apply,” said Inniss, following a two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting of the NUPW’s National Council at its Dalkeith headquarters, which ended just after five this evening.
Inniss, who is due to meet with NUPW officials tomorrow morning in a last-ditch attempt to avert the possible shutdown, is already on record as saying that his willingness to meet with the NUPW is not an indication that the BIDC would automatically withdraw letters of termination issued to 13 workers.
However, in a brief interview with Barbados TODAY after the union held its talks, he insisted that had not asked “either side to alter their position” as a pre-condition to tomorrow’s meeting.
However, the final decision on whether there will be a full-blown strike now rests on his shoulders after the NUPW indicated today that such action would be pursued if the state-owned BIDC failed to withdraw the termination letters, which were issued on Wednesday, June 17, to the 13 workers who are all over the age of 60.
Acting General Secretary of the NUPW Roslyn Smith told Barbados TODAY immediately following a two-and-a-half hour-long meeting of the National Council that a last-ditch effort to have the strike threat averted during tomorrow’s meeting with Inniss, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
“Basically the Council met and ratified any industrial that needs to be taken. If the meeting tomorrow goes sour or awry . . . we are still on course [for strike action],” Smith warned.
NUPW President Akanni McDowall further cautioned the Minister that the membership of the union had not changed its position and therefore stood ready to embark on serious action.
“So, the plan is to attend the meeting tomorrow, hear what the Minister has to say and then we will start to roll out our strategy. But the Minister must be mindful that our position has not changed,” McDowall told Barbados TODAY.
“The members said to us that they want those workers back to work or they have to pay them until the age of 67
. . . and this evening we have a strong position from the Council saying that we can give those workers as much support as we need to,” he added.
In the meantime, well-placed sources have indicated to Barbados TODAY that the 13 workers were issued with option forms by the BIDC today. If they agree to sign, it would mean that they have accepted the statutory board’s offer of a gratuity and a reduced pension.
However, up to late this evening there was no indication that any of the recently dismissed employees had accepted the offer.
Barbados TODAY, however, understands that the workers have retained attorney-at-law Gregory Nicholls, who is expected to file an injunction in the High Court, which would effectively block their terminations.
An NUPW official also said the court may have to settle the controversy surrounding the interpretation of the Pensions Act under which the employees were displaced.
The NUPW has been contending that the amended Act allows employees at statutory boards to retire at age 67, but the BIDC seems to have a different interpretation of the legislation.
The Barbados Workers Union (BWU) has pledged its full support to the NUPW in the current impasse. As a result, General Secretary Toni Moore told a news conference last week the BWU would support any action pursued by the NUPW.
However, in a separate development, today’s meeting of the NUPW’s National Council ended both prematurely and in rancor.
After successfully concluding its deliberations on the BIDC matter, there was major disagreement among members over the selection of a delegate to attend an overseas conference.