An apparent mishandled response to a sick-out at the Bridgetown Port Wednesday sparked a full blown strike at the entity as Barbados trades unions ramped up protests against a tax increase that could spike inflation.
Following a go-slow of employees across Barbados Monday and Tuesday, instituted by some unions with the aim of pressuring government to repeal or soften a recently increased import tax, workers on Wednesday began a sick-out at private and public places across the island, but Bridgetown Port management responded by bringing in reportedly armed coast guard members to replace protesters instead of employing casual labourers.
The port management’s action contravened the established labor agreement, and this saw the situation degenerate into a strike by permanent staff.
“There was a gang that reported sick this morning. The usual response from the port management would be to get another gang to come in to work. If another gang was unavailable there are casuals and reserves that can be called on,” explained Toni Moore, president of the Barbados Workers Union that represents port workers.
She said that though the casual workers were there and willing to replace the ‘sick’ labourers, management ignored the long-standing bargaining agreement with the union and brought in the soldiers.
“Management never called me but instead went straight to the Coast Guard. What created a lot more anxiety among the port workers who were inside was the fact that the coast guard came armed,” she said.
The island’s four largest trades unions, Barbados Workers Union; National Union of Public Workers; Barbados Union of Teachers; and the Barbados Secondary Teachers Union had on Monday issued a ‘work to rule’ directive to workers who account for most of the country’s workforce.
The directive by the unions was prompted by government’s refusal, so far, to respond to an ultimatum they issued last Tuesday demanding that the Prime Minister Freundel Stuart administration either withdraw or reduce a sweeping import tax that was jacked up from two to 10 percent as of July 01.
The movement from two to 10 percent of the tax, National Social Responsibility Levy , threatens to hit the island with an inflationary shock because Barbados imports more than 70 percent of its goods and inputs for services.
The “go slow and stand outside at lunchtime” instruction to workers was for Monday and Tuesday, with then upping the ante by calling in sick Wednesday and Thursday, then returning to go-slow Friday.
If by then government does not flinch, the plan was to mobilize Barbadians for a march and rally Saturday.
While Bridgetown Port management’s clumsy handling of the sick-out led to a strike, there have been media reports of workers being off the job at many private and public entities across the island claiming illness.
Some sections of the civil service along with the Transport Board that operates a crucial public bus transportation service and the state-owned television station, CBC are reported to be among those severely affected.