TUC President Obie Ferguson: We came here open and left empty
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Despite a meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis and the Cabinet on Saturday to address mounting tensions among several unions, several leaders of those bargaining agents expressed dissatisfaction.
“We came here open and left empty,” said Trade Union Congress President Obie Ferguson following the high-level meeting at the Paul Farquharson Centre, Police headquarters.
Four hundred Junior doctors withdrew services last Wednesday over issues surrounding holiday pay owed to Bahamas Doctors Union members since 2014.
The Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU) marched downtown and demonstrated outside the Churchill Building after the government proposed splitting its $1,200 lump sum for back to school assistance into two tranches of $600.
During Saturday’s meeting, the Ministry of Finance made a presentation to the union leaders to demonstrate the country’s fiscal position and the critical need to lower expenditure, boost revenue and manage the country’s deficit and national debt.
BPSU President Kimsley Ferguson and National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTUB) Acting President Paul Maynard said the meeting was too little too late.
“If you are going to advise us of the country’s financial position in light of the fact that there are industrial agreements that would’ve already expired, I think you’re timing is poor,” Ferguson said.
“What they need to do is talk to the stakeholders before they make these budgets up and that’s the problem they are having,” Maynard added. “It’s showing and they are beginning to lag behind. There’s absolutely no excuse. You knew all the contracts were up last year.”
Speaking to the media, Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said both he and the prime minister believe the meeting with the union leaders was productive.
He did not disclose details, but said the prime minister made certain commitments to the unions.
“The prime minister made a commitment that he will have similar meetings, such as this, before budget projections are formulated and that is something that is new,” Foulkes said.
While Ferguson indicated that Saturday’s meeting was a welcomed gesture, he said he believes the government is in a financial position to satisfy the unions’ members who he said have not asked for more than what they are owed.
“The government is concerned about dropping below a particular percentage, but if you say you have contingencies then you can help us,” the union president said.
Asked about industrial action, Ferguson told Eyewitness News Onlinethat the executives of the union were exploring the option, but were still hoping for a favourable counter-proposal.
“BPSU is not going to sit by and allow the gap between the haves and the have-nots to continue to widen,” he said. “Our job is to ensure that persons’ head can remain above water, and that Bahamians can survive.”
Ferguson said the union will hold off on further action for the time being, noting that he expects to hear from the prime minister today.
Meanwhile, Bahamas Union of Teachers (BUT) President Belinda Wilson, who also attended Saturday’s meeting also expressed dissatisfaction, saying although the presentation was informative, the government never made provisions for salary increases.
“Every time it comes to us asking for a salary increase, it’s like we are doing a cardinal sin,” she said. “If you work, you expect to be paid and get periodic salary increases.”