NUPW prepares for second phase of protests
The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) said today it was ready and willing to meet with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to try to resolve its dispute with the state-owned Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC), which retired 13 employees, ten of whom have reached the age of 60.
Thousands of government workers responded to the NUPW’s call to march today to press the BIDC to withdraw the retirement letters, something the statutory body has refused to do.
Addressing workers and other civil society demonstrators at the NUPW Dalkeith Road Headquarters at the end of the near three-hour march from Queen’s Park, a combative President Akanni McDowall sent a strong message to Stuart that the union would not back down from its demands to either rehire the workers or pay them until they reach age 67.
“Now if the Prime Minister, through whatever means he has, wants to have a discussion, I will do so; because they say I am young and giddy-headed, I will do so to prove to them that I am not young and giddy-headed. But my position remains the same . . . if they think that they met an arrogant person by having a minister that says whatever he wants and is in Colombia while a protest action is going on, they have not met Akanni McDowall yet,” McDowall declared from the balcony of the union headquarters to cheers from the crowd.
“Those letters [of retirement] have to be withdrawn or those people have to be paid until age 67,” the union boss added.
Stuart had informed a post-CARICOM Summit news conference on Saturday that the union had not asked him to intervene, but that he was ready to do so if invited. McDowall hit back, stating it was not the union’s responsibilty to request the Prime Minister’s intervention.
He said the NUPW held a formal meeting with a “legitimate” Minister of Cabinet – Minister Donville Inniss Industry and Commerce – whose job it was to report to Stuart that the talks had broken down and to ask him to intercede.
McDowall then drew attention to the show of force for today’s demonstration which saw workers represented by NUPW, the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union (BSTU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Nurses Association of Barbados (NAB) and the Unity Union join the protest.
Among those participating in the peaceful march under the sweltering morning sun were nurses, employees of the National Conservation Commission (NCC), the National Assistance Board, Customs and Excise, the Barbados Transport Authority, the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Barbados Government Information Service (BGIS), the National Cultural Foundation (NCF) and a strong contingent from the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA).
Singing the trade union anthems, Solidarity Forever and We Shall Overcome, and chanting “enough is enough”, the placard-waving protestors left Queen’s Park just after 9.30 a.m., with police estimating the initial numbers at about 1,500. On Princess Alice Highway the turnout was estimated at around 2,000 and revised upwards to over 3,500 by the time demonstrators approached Lower Collymore Rock.
Some placards read: “Today It’s Me, Tomorrow It’s You;” “The Government Has Lost Its Integrity;” and “Respect Workers’ Rights.”
In addition to the NUPW hierarchy that included Roslyn Smith, McDowall and Delcia Burke, General Secretary of the BWU Toni Moore and Senior Executive Wayne Walrond; BSTU President Mary Redman; BUT President Pedro Shepherd and Head of the new Unity Union Caswell Franklyn all joined the march.
There was enthusiastic support from the Barbados Association of Retired Persons (BARP), while Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and other members of the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) and a group of Pan Africanists including David Comissiong and Trevor Prescod showed solidarity.
Barbados-born Muslim businessman Ali Kothdiwala and his 11-year-old son Khaleel, joined the march even while fasting. Kothdiwala explained that he understood the workers’ pain because hard times had forced him to shut his five stores and lay off all his employees. His placard read: “This Is My Country. We Are Hurting. One One Blow Does Kill An Ole Cow. NCC, Drainage/UWI, Truckers, BIDC. Enuff is Enuff.”
As the chanting demonstrators snaked their way towards Dalkeith Road workers from various businesses along the route watched or cheered them on.
A few drizzles and partly overcast skies could not tame the blistering heat which forced the frequent consumption of bottled water along the route.
When the protestors reached the BIDC offices they paused to reflect on those employees who were sent home from that statutory board and to deliver a defiant message to the authorities that the union was prepared to call out employees of the Transport Board, the ports of entry and the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) if the current impasse continued.
Meantime, McDowall revealed that the union would meet in an emergency session tomorrow with all shop stewards, counsellors, divisional leaders and committees to evaluate the impact of today’s demonstration and plan for the next phase of the protest.
He said the union had called out some critical departments across the country to assist with the fight with BIDC, “and because you are not hearing it in the media, it does not mean that the Government is not feeling it.”
The strong turn out by the SSA workers appeared to have had an adverse impact on the collection of garbage in some parts of the island. Refuse was seen piling up in some Black Rock areas.