Unions hit back at PM
Barbados’ two major trade unions, the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) have hit back at the Freundel Stuart administration, blaming the Government for the “current instability” in the country’s industrial relations climate.
Stuart led a stinging attack on the unions yesterday, comparing them to “fanatics with guns” and accussing them of adopting bullying and blackmail tactics in the row between the NUPW and the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) over the forced retirement of ten employees who have reached the age of 60.
The unions have hit back, claiming that the administration’s “reluctance to engage in meaningful consultation” with the workers representatives has contributed “in no small measure” for the volatile atmosphere.
In a joint press release issued today, the two unions, which had threatened to shut down the country with a general strike, charged that a number of vexing issues, including “a breakdown in respect; a failure to consult; and a breach of the Barbados Social Partnership protocols and the rules underpinning the time-tested industrial relations of Barbados” have led them to this point.
The two unions claimed that in June, 2013, a tripartite commitment was agreed for “full consultation” during the retrenchment of workers in an attempt to reduce the negative impact on working families. They said a document outlining the Government’s policy on managing the retrenchment process was circulated but that too was not followed.
“This breach of faith was most glaring in the retrenchment exercise carried out at the Drainage Unit, the National Housing Corporation, the National Conservation Commisssion (NCC) and the Transport Board,” the country’s largest private and public sector unions said in their release, adding that in the cases of the NCC and the Transport Board, the consultations had begun but the process by Government departments was interrupted with “unilateral actions” to make workers redundant before final agreement was reached.
“To date these two matters remain unresolved before the Employment Rights Tribunal. Up to now neither the naysayers nor the Government have addressed the tremendous pain and suffering that the retrenched workers have undergone,” the release stated.
They dismissed the Prime Minister’s accusation of bullying, blackmail and breach of process, suggesting the administration should look in the mirror.
“Even now, while unions are being accused of applying bullying tactics and not following the process, the Government has further provoked the situation, adding insult to injury, by issuing option forms to workers at the Customs Department. This is being done even while consultations are still on-going and where commitments have been made by the Government to resolve all outstanding issues before moving to this step,”the BWU and NUPW stated in the release.
“Who really is the bully? Who has breached the process? Who has shown disrespect?”
The unions stressed that at no time have they said that there should be no lay-offs, but they have insisted that public sector restructuring should not be done adopting “backdoor approaches”. They complained of “unfortunate statements” made in recent times by Government officials and more recently, the Barbados Light and Power Company Limited, which they said had the potential to undermine the trade union movement and its tradition of voluntarism.
Issuing a stern warning to employers in both sectors, the unions said: “Workers of Barbados will therefore need to make a strong statement that such approaches have no place in our industrial relations system; there must be an expressed commitment to consultation; decisions must be people-centred and the workers who have built this countrymust be respected.”
However, they offered a hint of conciliation by assuring employers that they remained commited to the “least painful resolutions” to the impasse with the BIDC, adding that the statutory board’s offer of an extension of payment until December addresses a part of the issue.
The unions had threatened a national strike on Wednesday or Thursday if the impasse was not resolved by then.