There’s always a place for calmer heads

We present neither malice nor mischief in stating that keener attention needs to be paid to those who suggest that the leadership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) has perhaps lost its way.

Some within the labour movement have gone as far as noting that recent exaggerated industrial noise by the NUPW is without just cause. They posit that the rhyme and reason behind the flexing of NUPW muscle is a response to disenchantment among too large a section of its membership and an attempt to discourage an exodus of some from the union’s ranks. The jury remains in deliberation on these assertions, though.

Nevertheless, two situations suggest that those accustomed to erudite industrial representation from the NUPW might have reasonable grounds for concern
with the present status quo.

Much has already been written and said about the industrial fallout involving the Grantley Adams Industrial Airport Inc. (GAIA) and the NUPW over a 3.5 per cent pay increase the union states is owed to GAIA employees under its umbrella. In negotiations on behalf of the workers in 2010, led by then general secretary Dennis Clarke, additional monies for GAIA workers were conditional on an improvement in the economy. Aspects of a consultation on the matter which Mr Clarke had with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart at that time, and his subsequent communication with those workers the NUPW represent, are rather unclear and the retired Mr Clarke has made no effort to clarify the same.

Be that as it may, one of the pillars on which the NUPW has made its claim is the fact that the economy has “improved” and therefore the workers should get their increased salaries. The NUPW has also stressed that GAIA Inc. made profits over the past five years and can afford to pay the increases.

To this, Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy has pointed out that it would be unfair for workers employed by GAIA Inc. –– a private company mandated by its state shareholder to maximize its commercial viability –– to get further increases that others did not. Mr Sealy explained that while airport workers employed by Government got a ten per cent pay increase for the 2008 to 2010 period, GAIA Inc. workers received a 14 per cent hike –– a seven per cent increase in the first year, followed by a three per cent increase in the second year, and then a four per cent hike in the third year.

“So is it fair that the janitorial staff that are employed by GAIA Inc. get a disproportionate increase to Central Government janitorial staff who are at the same airport facility? It’s immoral.

Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy
Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy

“I would think that a trade union which is all about the collective element . . . would be in unison with others at the facility. And the further absurdity is there are other elements of airport operations that are controlled by the NUPW,” Mr Sealy said.

The minister suggested that the flexing of NUPW muscle had more to do with “a few people presumably looking for a rock to stand on” than having good reason for protest.

But the question we ask of the NUPW is this: in the face of negligible, and some would suggest, negative growth, and frequent downgrades, has Barbados’ economy truly improved? With Central Bank Governor Dr DeLisle Worrell’s recent revelation of a 0.5 per cent growth in the economy, is that growth at which we should click our heels and rub our hands with glee?

With the economy still struggling and the debt to GDP still quite untenable, can the state or creatures of its making afford a financial run on their coffers at this juncture? That is a question only the NUPW’s leadership can answer, and simultaneously explain in detail to its membership.

And while it is doing that, perhaps it could write a letter of apology to Commissioner of Police Tyrone Griffith. Some months ago, Mr Griffith boldly stated that illegal firearms were making their way into Barbados through the airport and seaport.

The top cop had stated that officials at our ports of call were either assisting with the importation of firearms or were not detecting them at the country’s borders. Mr Griffith, no doubt, had based his statements on intelligence gathered, as well as previous situations where Customs officers had been arrested, charged and convicted for the importation of illegal drugs.

His comments were met with righteous indignation by the NUPW’s leadership who described Mr Griffith’s statements as inflammatory and without basis, and serving only to tarnish the integrity and reputation of all Customs officers.

We are sure that the Commissioner of Police, as well as the leadership of the NUPW, would join with us in congratulating those hard-working, honest Customs officer(s) who intercepted a young man on Friday as he allegedly attempted to import four firearms and drugs through the Bridgetown Port.

Inasmuch as we suggest that considerable discussion always be preferable to speedy industrial action, blinkered defence should not take sway over expert opinion.

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