Clear sign unions not backing down

Over the past three weeks, as Barbados played host to thousands of visitors who came here to participate, first, in our annual Crop Over festival, followed afterwards by CARIFESTA which is a simultaneous celebration and showcase of the region’s finest artistic talent and culture, both events provided an opportunity for the island’s highly charged industrial relations climate to have a cooling off period.

Now, with both festivals out of the way following the colourful climax of CARIFESTA last night, it looks as if the island’s four major trade unions are getting ready to up by several notches their campaign for a better deal from Government on behalf of struggling, heavily taxed Barbadians workers who, in real terms, have experienced a reduction in disposable income over the last decade. Public sector workers are probably the hardest hit as they have not had a pay increase in nine years.

Over the weekend, as members of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) gathered at their Solidarity House headquarters for the opening of their 76th annual delegates conference, General Secretary Toni Moore signalled the struggle for a reduction of the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) was far from over. In fact, she issued a clear warning against taking the unions’ silence in the weeks subsequent to the inconclusive August 11 meeting of the Social Partnership as a sign that the unions have accepted Government’s position which was that everyone should wait until September to assess the impact of the 400 per cent increase in the NSRL.

“Where there is a perceived silence on the issue that took 30,000 people or more through the streets of Bridgetown, you are not to be misled into thinking that that means the issue has ended, because it is not,” Moore told delegates.

“We have . . . accepted the proposal to allow two . . . just over two weeks for a number of important meetings to be convened. A number of important meetings that would speak to the issues of fiscal reform, growth and sustainability of Barbados,” she added.

Against the backdrop of a sharp deterioration in some aspects of the troubled economy, especially the foreign reserves and a stubborn fiscal deficit, the 400 per cent increase in the NSRL tops the unions’ grievances. It was introduced along with other new austerity measures with the aim of helping to eliminate the  deficit over nine months. The effect, however, has been to push up an already high cost of living, adding to the day-to-day pressures of living for workers in the absence of pay increases.

Following a joint private sector-trade union protest march that brought out over 20,000 Barbadians on to the streets of Bridgetown in a strong show of disapproval of the Government’s policies, the private sector and the unions took their case for a 50 per cent reduction of the NSRL to the full meeting of the Social Partnership earlier this month. They did not succeed as Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made it clear the NSRL would remain untouched until a review at the end of September.

Ms Moore’s comments were echoed by President of the National Union of Public Workers, Akanni McDowall. who noted that the Stuart administration was well aware that public servants had not received a salary increase in almost a decade, and, this year with the introduction of the NSRL, parents would find the cost of back to school supplies to be more burdensome. “So, for all those who think our fight is over with regard to the NRSL and coping subsidy, it cannot be over.  We have only just started.  We have to keep fighting so that the workers of Barbados can have their dignity restored,” McDowall said.

President of the Barbados Secondary Teacher Union, Mary Redman, also speaking at the opening of the BWU’s annual conference, expressed dissatisfaction with the state of relations, between the labour movement and Government, suggesting that she has never seen it at this level. She said unions were being aggressively attacked, dismissed and insulted as being noisemakers, vagabonds and enemies of the state. “Never has it been so difficult for trade unions to get simple responses to correspondence on any matter from those who seek to govern us; to get meetings requested to encourage the type of dialogue, consultation and cooperation envisaged and initially encouraged with the establishment of the Social Partnership that we hold up as a world model,” Redman said.

Clearly, the industrial relations climate looks set to remain bumpy for the foreseeable future unless there is a softening of positions, and a meeting of minds in a spirit of give and take. It may seem insurmountable, but it certainly is not impossible.

One Response to Clear sign unions not backing down

  1. jrsmith August 29, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Clearly the industrial relations climate is going to remain bumpy for the foreseeable future ,,,,, unless there is a meeting of minds in a spirit of give and take…………….. This is rubbish people stop skipping over the line , any situation which exists in Barbados is all down to our lying , aggressive , rude , big attitude politicians because they are not accountable to the black masses……………
    ………………………………We must get our politicians under control , then everything will change in barbados which ever party is in power , may be we would see a coalition government in barbados one day…………………… The people must change as well ,, I am always saying we need a short act of parliament namely so the (Accountability Act 2017) , this will give the voters the automatic right to remove any (MP) from office if he/she is not working for or on behalf of the people………………………….
    BIG question , my feeling the present government will win the new election , what then will happen , would the people then have the chance to remove anyone of these said people from office , no , so we would have to like it or lump it , for 5 more years, lets wait and see …………………………………

    Reply

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