BWA workers to begin getting back pay

The first tranche of $17 million in retroactive pay owed to workers of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) will be disbursed by the end of this month, according to Chairman Dr Atlee Brathwaite.

Dr Brathwaite told Barbados TODAY he was surprised that the workers were planning to go on strike, considering that they had already received their increased wages and the back pay would be in their hands by month end.

However, Orlando Gabby Scott, spokesman for the workers’ representative the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), was singing a different tune following a meeting this morning with Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo. The minister Tuesday held separate talks with a BWU delegation and BWA management officials at the Labour Department.

“The agreement that we came out of the meeting with two ministers was that the first tranche would be paid in May [this year], wasn’t it? What month this is? [It’s July] . . . and the workers have not yet been paid. That is why we had the meeting,” Scott said.

Back in March, the embattled BWA and the union agreed to a package of payments for the 830 employees. This came at the height of a crippling week-long protest led by the BWU. As part of the deal brokered during six hours of talks at Government Headquarters on March 24, under the chairmanship of Byer-Suckoo, and attended by Minister of Water Resource Management Dr David Estwick, Government agreed to pay increases for both monthly and weekly paid workers, as well as settlement of outstanding back pay.

“The minister met this morning with the [Barbados] Water Authority, then she met with us. She is to inform them of the meeting that took place with us and then she will call a meeting between the two sides later,” Scott told Barbados TODAY following two hours of discussions at the Labour Department Tuesday.

However, Dr Brathwaite saw no reason for the union to feel aggrieved.

“If you recall, regarding the back pay, the Ministry of Finance was to send a supplemental to look after that; and I think correspondence to the effect that it will be paid to workers over a six month period . . . and I think, I have to check, that the first tranche has been sent over to the Water Authority, and by the end of this month I believe the first tranche will be paid, so I don’t know what is the fuss,” the BWA Chairman said. “The other part of that agreement, that is, the incremental increase, that has been taken care of. People have got their new salaries and what have you, so I was surprised to hear that these guys want to strike again.”

When contacted, BWA General Manager Dr John Mwansa confirmed that the back pay would be disbursed this month.

“The payment is being processed for them . . . [and] they will be paid during the month of July,” Mwansa said.

Asked to discuss the main sticking point, the water authority executive responded: “I don’t discuss such matters in public.”

Pressed to say if everything was in train to be settled, he replied: “Yes, everything is in train. The union knows that . . . we have an agreement and the process to deal with it.”

Mwansa also declined to say how much back pay was owed to the workers. However in March this year, Brathwaite had told Barbados TODAY that based on the increase in wages, the BWA’s total wage bill was likely to rise to over $40 million a year. He also stated at the time that it was “a ballpark figure. That is not confirmed yet . . . these are estimates.”

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