Victory is mine
Unions reap success in impasse with government
In a dramatic last minute shift, the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) has withdrawn the vexing retirement letters sent to ten employees who have reached aged 60, and which have led to a bitter fight with the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW).
The NUPW, which has the support of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), embarked on limited industrial action – sanitation workers have been on strike since the middle of last week, while customs and immigration officers went on go-slow today – and had threatened to escalate the action if the BIDC had not met its demands.
The union had demanded a withdrawal of the letters and reinstatement of the workers. However, the state-owned entity was adamant that it would not back down.
But with the country on the brink of a potentially crippling national strike, the unions held a joint press conference at the NUPW headquarters on Dalkeith Road, St Michael, late this evening to announce that the statutory agency had relented and would rescind the letters and recall the retired employees.
“This is a victory for all workers of Barbados,” BWU General Secretary Toni Moore said of the decision.
“Special thanks go out to our members and workers generally who gave flesh to the mantra that Unity is Strength. We also thank the workers for pledging their firm and ongoing support to the leadership of the trade union movement . . . . We must also thank the Barbados Social Partnership, the Subcommittee, for reminding all employers – the Government and other stakeholders – that it remains, and must be used, as the engine of industrial stability.
“The unions have strongly demonstrated our continued commitment to ensuring that the well being of the working class is protected and that no worker feels disadvantaged. We are ever conscious that these are the times that try men’s souls. This obstacle has therefore reaffirmed that within the trade union movement unity is not only possible, but unity is alive and well,” Moore added.
NUPW President Akanni Mc Dowall told reporters that he hoped today’s decision would inform all other decisions of Government and all statutory boards planning to retire sexagenarians who had not yet reached age 67, revealing that letters had been sent to workers at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH), who are approaching the retirement age.
“With today’s precedent, unions are therefore calling on the Government to rescind the letters to the QEH and Customs Department employees and to workers employed by any other Government-run organization that we may not have heard to date,”he said.
Earlier this afternoon, there were signs that a resolution was near when Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer announced that the BIDC had put “a firm offer” on the table during a four-hour meeting of the Social Partnership Sub-Committee at the Lloyd Erskine Sandirford Centre.
While Dr Byer, who chaired the meeting, declined to say give details of the offer, she said the NUPW had promised to respond by tomorrow.
“We had the input of everybody at the table and we now have a firm offer that has been put on the table from BIDC to the NUPW. The NUPW has indicated that they need now to go back to their council . . . They did say by tomorrow we would have a response from them,” said an optimistic Dr Byer.
“So there is an offer on the table. An offer that has not been rejected, and has been given in good faith, and looked at in good faith, and will now be reviewed by their council and their partners, and whoever else they have to go to.”
Dr Byer suggested that a national strike threatened by the NUPW and the BWU had influenced the BIDC’s decision. The two unions indicated yesterday that they would shut down the country either tomorrow or on Thursday.
“We have partners who are not satisfied [with] a state of industrial disharmony that is escalating, or can escalate. If we decide we are going to close our airport and seaport, and our cruise ships can’t come in and help to boost the economy in the way that it does when they come and spend, those are things that affect everyone of us. And that is why we had the response here today,” she said.
Stressing that the current situation was unsustainable, the Minister of Labour said she was concerned that any escalation in industrial action could ultimately lead to more layoffs.
“If this is an action that is protracted then you could see companies saying, ‘listen I am not making payroll so I am going to have to put you on short time until this thing settles, or I might have to lay you off’.
“In the end more people will suffer. The irony of it being that the people at the BIDC who were retired are actually getting their money up until September 30. But everybody else would be affected negatively,” the Minister said, adding that both sides were willing to “come closer” and have the issue resolved.
However, McDowall told reporters that an agreement was reached to withdrawn the letters, and the workers would remain as full employees of the BIDC. He further disclosed that dates would be set for meetings between the BIDC and the NUPW.
The trade unionist said the BIDC committed to full disclosure, allowing for consultations to take place within the context of Section 6:13 and 6:14 of Protocol V1 of the Barbados Social Partnership, and Section 31 of the Employment Rights Act.
McDowall told reporters that the BIDC also agreed not to take the matter to court, and stressed that the system of voluntarism would remain sacred and intact.
NUPW Acting General Secretary Roslyn Smith announced that due to today’s agreement, tomorrow’s planned shutdown had been cancelled.
When contacted following this evening’s announcement by the unions, the Minister of Labour appeared more guarded about an agreement.
While saying that no one had gotten back to her, she told Barbados TODAY she was pleased that the NUPW had accepted the latest offer.
However, Dr Byer took issue with the NUPW’s statement that the ten contentious letters had been withdrawn, saying it was not the correct language to use.
Instead, she suggested it would be more appropriate to say “the BIDC offered not to act on the letters”, but was willing to meet with the union as early as tomorrow to discuss all the challenges being experienced by the corporation and to work out a longer term solution.
“The offer the BIDC put on the table was that the BIDC would not act on the letters that they had issued to the ten retirees; and those retirees, those ten persons would remain as full employees,” Dr Byer stressed.