Unions and BIDC reach deal to avert national strike in Barbados

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VICTORY: NUPW officials (from left) general treasurer Asakore Beckles, acting general secretary Roslyn Smith, and president Akanni McDowall join hands with BWU general secretary Toni Moore (right). (Photo: Barbados Today)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday July 15, 2015 – The Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) has given into the demands of the island’s largest public sector trade union and reinstated workers it forced into retirement last month, narrowly averting a national strike that was set to begin as early as today.

The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) yesterday declared victory after the BIDC agreed the 10 employees would go back to work. The statutory body will also hold further consultations with the NUPW and its planned court action will be halted.

The reinstatement offer from the BIDC was put on the table during a meeting of the sub-committee of the social partners. The acceptance by the union staved off an islandwide shutdown that would have been phase three of industrial action which started last Monday with a protest march through the capital and intensified with Sanitation Service Authority workers going on strike and Customs and Immigration workers embarking on a go-slow.

When the BIDC retired the 10 workers a month ago, it said it had invoked its right under the Statutory Boards (Pensions) Act to retire officers reaching the age of 60, but the NUPW insisted the move was illegal and demanded the reinstatement of the workers or payment until the age of 67.

Speaking at a joint media conference, top officials of the NUPW and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) which gave its support throughout the impasse, said the development was a victory for workers all across Barbados.

But even as the BIDC and the NUPW reached agreement, the union served notice that it was also expecting that similar letters sent to other public sector workers would be withdrawn.

“It is hoped that the decision of today’s meeting will inform all other decisions of statutory boards and central government which are aimed at similar action,” NUPW president Akanni McDowall said.

“With today’s precedent, unions are therefore calling on the government to rescind the letters to the QEH [Queen Elizabeth Hospital] and Customs Department employees and to workers employed by any other government-run organization that we may not have heard to date.”

During the industrial action, the unions had insisted that they were protesting not just the BIDC matter but the administration’s disrespect for and failure to consult with trade unions, and breaches of the Barbados Social Partnership protocols.

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on Monday blasted the trade unions, accusing them of using blackmail and bullying tactics.

But the unions hit back yesterday in a joint statement, saying that the administration’s reluctance to engage in meaningful consultation with the workers representatives has contributed, “in no small measure”, to the volatile industrial relations climate in the country.

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