Civil servants in Barbados go on strike; demanding higher wages

As if things were not bad enough for the government of Barbados in an election year, the island’s civil servants were called to participate in a two-day strike Thursday, Jan. 18, and Friday, Jan. 19, to demand salary increases that have been due since 2009.

With the government struggling to revive a depressed economy and deal with the crisis of a sewage spill on a significant stretch of Barbados’ tourist belt, Akanni McDowall, president of the more than 10,000-strong National Union of Public Workers, Wednesday called out members for protests Thursday and Friday.

McDowall said the strike call was a last resort because the January 15 deadline his union set for government to respond to its latest proposals had come and gone with no word from the administration of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.

“Public servants have taken the brunt of this government’s Draconian cost-cutting measures and can take it no more. We deserve better,” the leader of the island’s most powerful public workers union said.

“It is unfair to expect that public servants will continue to accept government’s disregard for their time even as they contribute in a major way to government’s revenue and its success,” McDowall said. “After extensive discussion and mindful of the mandate given by our membership, the National Union of Public Workers hereby informs its members to stay from work on Thursday and Friday for two days of protests and resistance.”

The call for a strike follows the government’s offer of a $49 million lump sum payment to public servants just over a month ago. The union fired back with a demand for $60 million, saying that this must be just an interim payment and cannot replace the 23 percent wage increase it wants for members. The NUPW had given the government until Jan. 15 to respond.

“All gloves are off. The mandate from the [NUPW’s executive] council and the general membership was that the government must conclude negotiations by today, so we are prepared to do whatever is necessary to conclude salary negotiations,” McDowall had said on the evening of January 15 after business hours when it had become apparent that the administration did not intend to meet the deadline. McDowall made the announcement after a meeting with the union’s executive council.

“Unfortunately, the government has chosen not to respond, so therefore the union is left with no choice but to take industrial action,” he said.

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