PM blasts NUPW over strike
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has led a forceful attack on the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), comparing it to “fanatics armed with guns” and accusing it of using bluster, bullying and blackmail tactics in its dispute with the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC), over the forced retirement of 10 of its employees who have reached the age of 60.
And with the union threatening to escalate its protest, Stuart said his administration was prepared to take necessary action to protect the country and the trade union movement, noting that the Government had the power, under Section 48 of the Constitution of Barbados, to introduce legislation for various occurrences. In addition, he said, the Government was prepared to take the issue to court as a matter of urgency.
The Prime Minister, who said he was “not in a doze” but had been observing and listening closely to all “the utterances”, made the comments in a frank interview with the media on the sidelines of the National Consultation on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development seminar at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa this morning.
“We have been told that this is new trade unionism. The implication sometimes given that the people who were there before did not know what they were doing, and that this new trade unionism is supposed to come to teach all of us, including those who have demitted office recently in the NUPW and elsewhere, how trade unionism is really to be practiced,” said Stuart.
“I have listened very carefully to all the utterances and I have noticed a few things. One, I have noted now that process has been banished to the limbo of forgotten things. You don’t have to go through processes anymore. I have noted that the word negotiation has been emptied of all of its significance. So you don’t have to negotiate anymore. What you do is to use bluster, to use bullying and to use blackmail,” said Stuart, who accused the union of starting with “last resort rather than first resort”.
Echoing the words of his Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer following her failed attempts last week to get the two sides to resolve the dispute, Stuart argued that “a system of volunteerism” in industrial relations had worked for the country “ever since trade unions took shape in Barbados”, and that there had been no law in place to regulate it.
“We have relied on the maturity, the conscientiousness, the civic mindedness and good will of our trade union leaders to manage this process. And let’s be very frank about it. It has worked very, very well for us over the years.
“So we were all justified in believing that our system of volunteerism was the best system for Barbados because it worked for us. All of a sudden now, like the rushing mighty wind on the day of Pentecost, we have some new actors on the scene who are basically telling us that all of that was nonsense; that what you do is to shut the country down at the first opportunity; that the aim of industrial relations is to teach the Government a lesson. And of course, all Barbadians have seen the extremes to which this new element is prepared to go. They have made it very clear this is new trade unionism. This is the new wine of industrial relations that we are all supposed to drink,” the Prime Minister contended.
However, Stuart made it clear that this “new wine” could not be accommodated “in old wineskins”, and, without going into details, warned that any steps the Government decided to take in the matter would do “a number of things” including protecting the trade union movement.
“The trade union movement has to be protected from adventurers. It has to be allowed to do its work,” insisted Stuart, stressing that “process has to be protected”.
“Section 48 of the Constitution of Barbados makes very clear that Parliament could make laws for the peace, the order and the good Government of Barbados. There is good reason why that section is there. It is there since 1966,” he warned.
Stuart defended his silence on the issue over the past few days, saying he deliberately allowed Barbadians to see the risk to which they were really exposed “if you allow elements that have no respect for process . . . to take control of the national situation in the industrial relations arena”.
The Barbadian leader said as far as he was aware the BIDC had put forward a number of proposals to the NUPW, adding that there was “a cleavage between the two sides” when it came to the interpretation of section 8 of the Statutory Boards (Pensions) Act.
“That is at the heart of the whole issue.
“The only authority in Barbados competent to determine what any section in a statute means is the court of law. So we are prepared to go to court on a certificate of urgency, which means that the court has to hear it immediately. We will go to court on a certificate of urgency to have the court tell us how Section 8 of the Statutory Boards Pension Act should be interpreted,” explained Stuart.
Speaking metaphorically, Stuart said “a fanatic armed with a gun is a very dangerous man”, and that when such was the case “you are in trouble”.
“But as the Prime Minister of Barbados I have a duty to make sure that fanatics armed with guns don’t get too far with them,” asserted Stuart, also claiming that the changes in the union had gone “so far that the general secretary of the National Union of Public Workers is not now the chief spokesman for the union. The chief spokesman now is the president”.
Saying that he intended to say “no more” on the issue after today, Stuart said he realized that all the good governance used in the past has been “thrown through the window and it is now choke and rob industrial relations” taking place.
“If you are going to have choke and rob industrial relations there has to be a response to that. And as Prime Minister for the time being for Barbados, I have a duty to ensure that our institutions, including, and in particular, the trade unions, are protected. I have a duty to make sure that the comfort of the public is not unnecessarily disturbed by industrial adventurism. I have a duty to make sure that this society can still retain some of the certainties to which it has grown accustomed and which have served us so well over the years,” the Prime Minister warned.
Stuart said he was told “by secondary source” that the next move by the union would be to call out traffic controllers in an attempt to disrupt the rest of the Crop Over festival and “to teach government a lesson”.