BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Tuesday February 2, 2016 – Tourism Minister Richard Sealy has described as “wild”, the stance being taken by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) which has threatened escalated industrial action at the Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) over a contested pay increase.
The NUPW, the country’s largest public sector trade union, led unionized workers in a three-hour protest at the airport last Friday. General secretary Roslyn Smith and president Akani McDowall have threatened further action if employees do not get a 3.5 per cent pay increase that it says is owed.
The management of GAIA Inc. has already insisted that the union agreed to forego the increase back in 2010.
At a press conference yesterday where he addressed the performance of and projections for the tourism sector, Minister Sealy said the NUPW had no case and insisted that while government was willing to meet to resolve the dispute it would not be negotiating.
He backed the airport management in the matter, saying that the 3.5 per cent the workers were claiming was taken off the table at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on December 28, 2010, and confirmed in correspondence from then NUPW general secretary Dennis Clarke the following month.
“So . . . because of a few people presumably looking for a rock to stand on, they want to resurrect an issue,” Sealy said. “It doesn’t really make sense,” he added, criticizing the union for jumping to protest action without any factual basis for doing so.
The tourism minister also dismissed the union’s claim that the GAIA Inc. has made profits over the last five years and can therefore afford to pay the workers.
Sealy further pointed out that it would not be fair that workers employed by GAIA Inc. – a private company, mandated by government, its sole shareholder, to maximize the commercial potential of the airport – get further increases that others do not.
He noted that while airport workers employed by government got a 10 per cent pay increase for the 2008 to 2010 period, GAIA Inc. workers received a 14 per cent hike – a seven per cent increase in the first year, followed by a three per cent increase in the second year and then a four per cent hike in the third year.
“So is it fair that the janitorial staff that are employed by GAIA Inc. get a disproportionate increase to central Government janitorial staff who are at the same airport facility? It’s immoral. I would think that a trade union which is all about the collective element . . . would be in unison with others at the facility. And the further absurdity, is there are other elements of airport operations that are controlled by the NUPW,” Sealy said.
The NUPW and GAIA Inc. are scheduled to meet tomorrow afternoon in an effort to resolve the dispute.