Barbados strike averted — for now

President of the National Union of Public Workers, Akanni McDowall.
Photo by George Alleyne

Barbados’ government blinked in the stare-off with unions and at a late hour agreed to meet labour representatives to discuss the demotion of National Union of Public Workers President, Akanni McDowall, staving off a strike.

The decision by officials to meet NUPW representatives was announced in a Government Information Services media release late Wednesday evening, just hours before that union with the support of the island’s two other powerful labour organisations, were set to launch a strike of unknown proportions.

The issue at hand was the unceremonious removal two weeks ago of McDowall from his public service job as an acting Health Planning Officer 1, back to his substantive post of Environmental Health Assistant, with no explanation given.

The trade unions declared the demotion unjustifiable because McDowall’s qualifications fit the senior post. Making matters worse, the position was then filled by an officer junior to the union leader.

But despite the NUPW officials’ repeated attempts to get government representatives to meet and explain the reduction in rank of their leader, there has been no such talks, and the union’s General Secretary Roslyn Smith had on Wednesday declared a strike would begin Thursday. This action was to be supported by the other major unions.

But, with the threat of industrial action looming, government apparently scrambled and issued a press statement Wednesday night.

“Senior government officials from the Personnel Administration Division and the Ministry of Civil Service will meet with the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) as requested to discuss the ‘reversion’ of Akanni McDowall,” the GIS release read in part.

It continued, “The meeting will be held tomorrow, Thursday, November 3, in the E. Humphrey Walcott Building, Corner of Collymore Rock and Culloden Road, St. Michael”.

“Mr. McDowall, whose substantive post is Environmental Health Assistant I in the Ministry of Health, acted as Health Planning Officer I in that Ministry from June 8, 2016, to Oct. 14, 2016.”

Following two hours of the hastily arranged talks with Ministry of the Civil Service officials Thursday, NUPW General Secretary Smith said that the union has given government some matters to consider and return to the bargaining table Monday.

“We were able to put our position to the CPO, (Chief Personnel Officer), and we’ve asked her to take that back to the Public Service Commission, hopefully by Monday.

“We will await the response to our position. I’m confident enough that errors were made and we’re just seeking to have them corrected.”

Hinting that a strike is not yet out of the picture, she said that membership of the unions will be kept up to date on talks.

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