Union official sees suspicious package as intimidation
Police and task force officers had to be called to the headquarters of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) this evening after a top official received a suspicious envelope.
The envelope, addressed to Acting General Secretary Roslyn Smith, was reportedly opened by a member of her administrative staff and was found to contain a white powdery substance, NUPW President Akanni McDowall told Barbados TODAY.
This prompted the officials, who were said to be meeting at the time, to summon emergency officials, including the fire and ambulance service.
Up to 9 p.m. tonight, NUPW officials were still on lockdown in the building awaiting the all clear. Police who had cordoned off the area were not allowing anyone to either enter or leave the compound.
An upset Acting Assistant General Secretary Wayne Walrond said he was “shocked” with the development, which he described as nothing short of “intimidatory tactics”.
Walrond, who was among a group of about a dozen NUPW officials “quarantined” in the building, also revealed that several private individuals who were attending a function at the NUPW headquarters, were stuck as well.
Asked if he felt it could be the poisonous substance anthrax, Waldrond said neither the NUPW officials nor the police currently had any clue as to where the package originated or the exact substance it contained.
The development comes amid ongoing tensions between the labour movement and the Government over the vexing issue retrenchments.
Just last night, the NUPW and the Barbados Workers Union called off a planned national strike after reporting that Government had agreed to rescind recent termination letters issues to ten BIDC workers.
However, this prompted an immediate response from Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer, who suggested that the matter was far from settled.
In a two-page statement earlier today, she explained that during yesterday’s meeting of the Social Partnership Sub-Committee, which she chaired, an offer was made by the BIDC which the NUPW indicated they would be “prepared to embrace”.
“The NUPW agreed to discuss the offer with their partners and constituents and advise the Chair of their decision no later than the following day [today]. It was further agreed that there would be no statement to the media other than general comments by the Chair,” the Minister explained.
However, an unimpressed Dr Byer said, “in yet another unprecedented move, the NUPW later gave a press conference without advising either the Chair or the BIDC of its decision.
“This is regretted as there are now some inconsistencies between the offer the BIDC made and read to the meeting, and the offer the NUPW is reportedly accepting.”
She went on to spell out the points of the BIDC offer, including a promise “not to act on the letters issued to the ten retirees”.
“Those workers were still employees, now paid up to the September 30, 2015 according to those letters, and BIDC accepted that they would remain as full employees, pending the outcome of the discussions.”
The Minister of Labour also disclosed that “it was further discussed that, under the terms of this offer, the workers would not return to the office of BIDC during the discussions which would follow”.
However, “in the spirit of compromise and in an effort to move the matter forward” BIDC had said they would meet with the NUPW as early as today “to have frank and open discussions with full disclosure of the issues at BIDC to settle the matter in the shortest possible time.
“BIDC further acceded to the NUPW’s request that they would not seek the court’s opinion at this time on the interpretation of Section 8(1) of the Statutory Boards Pensions Act as the proposed dialogue would not be on a legal basis but on the basis and principles of Protocol 6,” the statement added.
Describing the development as a “sad day in industrial relations”, Walrond said he was disgusted and disturbed by the latest development, which he said raised serious doubt over the whole intent of yesterday’s Social Partnership Sub-Committee meeting.
He said the unions approached the meeting with “seriousness, respect and a show of good faith”.
Following yesterday’s announcement by the unions that the terminations of the ten BIDC workers would immediately be rescinded, Walrond said in light of the Minister‘s statement the whole matter was now up in the air.
However, he said he couldn’t say definitively at this stage whether this would mean a resumption of protest action by the unions, which were said to be drafting a press statement on the matter.
Based on tonight’s developments that statement may not be forthcoming before tomorrow.