Inniss fails to resolve BIDC row with NUPW
Barbados remains under threat of a shutdown by the island’s main public sector union, as a dispute with the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) remains unsettled, and both sides refuse to budge.
Leaders of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) refused to rule out a shutdown of the country, following breakdown in talks this morning with Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss and members of the BIDC board over the BIDC’s decision to retire ten employees who have reached the age of 60.
However, it remains unclear if or when the union will call out workers.
Newly-elected president Akanni McDowall revealed little about their strategy, but told Barbados TODAY the technical officers and the executive would meet tomorrow morning to finalize plans.
The union has been demanding an apology from the corporation for not consulting with it before sending home
the workers, withdrawal of the letters of retirement or payment to the workers until they reach age 67. The state-owned statutory entity has rejected these demands, contending that it’s position was firm.
“Nothing has changed. The board’s position has not changed and the NUPW position remains the same. There’s been no agreement on either side; therefore the NUPW will take the next step, where we will strategize and we will seek some form of industrial action,” a visibly disappointed NUPW acting General Secretary Roslyn Smith declared in a terse statement outside the Ministry’s Reef Road, St Michael office.
Minutes later, Minister Inniss met with reporters inside his office and said that while an amicable solution had not been reached, the BIDC, which falls under his charge, was on solid ground in retiring the staffers.
Flanked by board chairman Benson Straker, Chief Executive Officer Sonja Trotman and Legal Officer Monica Mason-Crichlow, who also serves as board secretary, Inniss was adamant that the corporation –– with his support –– would not give in to the union’s demands.
In response to the NUPW’s insistence that it ought to have been consulted before the letters were issued, the Minister explained that the law did not provide for consultation when it came to retirement, only for dismissals or redundancies.
“The BIDC pointed out that that speaks to redundancy and not retirement; and therefore there was no need for the union to be heavily involved in the conversation prior to the board’s decision,” Inniss stated.
He also argued the union’s suggested alternative to pay the retirees until age 67 did not make sense.
With CARICOM leaders schedule to begin their annual summit here tomorrow, Innis appealed to the NUPW not to strike while the meeting was on.
“I have not sought in any way, shape, form or fashion to dictate to the NUPW what they can or cannot do. I have only simply asked that the interest of the country be considered at all times. Our economy remains a very fragile economy. This week we are playing hosts to very important visitors to Barbados, who are part of our development process. We are hosting the CARICOM Heads meeting . . . and our Prime Minister is the host . . . Barbados is the host,” he noted.
“And therefore I’d wish that there [would not] be any disruption to our services or within our space at this point in time,” Minister Inniss added.
The Minister estimated that the total settlement package for the ten would be about $800,000.
He rejected suggestions that the BIDC’s restructuring would mean mass layoffs, telling reporters that displacing staff was the least of the board’s intention to cut costs and boost revenue.