Unrest hits NIB
Eighty percent of the staff at National Insurance Board(NIB)locations across the country failed to report to work yesterday, according to NIB Director Algernon Cargill, who said he is puzzled over the”industrial action.”
Only about 100 of the 485 staff members turned up for work yesterday. The remainder called in sick or simply did not show up.
When contacted yesterday, Union of Public Officers(UPO)President Jerry Swan toldThe Nassau Guardianthat he had no idea what was going on. He said he did not go to work yesterday because he was sick. When asked to comment on the mass sick-out, Swan said he was unaware of any such thing.
However, Cargill toldThe Guardianyesterday that the sick-out was obviously planned.
“It’s not coincidental that more than 80 percent of the staff chose to withhold their labor,”he said.”It is an organized withdrawal of labor. I don’t know what’s driving it.”
Cargill said the management team heard about the sick-out on Wednesday from some of the line staff. However, he said when he asked several members of the union about it, he was told that nothing was planned.
“So today for this to be a reality, we are very surprised,”he said.
“I’m even more surprised because there was no industrial agreements on the record. We view this withdrawal of labor very seriously because while there was an attempt to curtail the services we offer here that benefit thousands of Bahamians, we are deeply concerned that employees would withhold their labor.”
Cargill said NIB has no knowledge of any dispute with the Public Managers Union(PMU)or with the UPO. In fact, he said NIB recently received PMU’s proposal for a new contract for the board’s managers and anticipates that negotiations will be cordial.
Cargill said earlier this year NIB successfully completed its negotiations for a five-year contract with UPO.
“NIB management is therefore somewhat taken aback at the idea that there may be some industrial action underway, as no grievance process has been initiated with us,”he said.
“We are very surprised that unions today decided to successfully organize a sick-out.”
Despite the fact that so many workers did not show up, Cargill said most operations at NIB continued yesterday.
He said there was a handful of employees who refused to participate in the industrial action.
“Through their valiant efforts, we are able to operate but not at the same level as[Wednesday]. We’re still able to provide essential services. We’re able to issue checks, pay claims, receive contribution payments, and verify Bahamians.”
Asked what the repercussions of the reported actions would likely be, Cargill said he would have to reserve his decision until after he meets with the union.
“I want to find out what prompted this action, then we’ll decide what action we will take,”he said.
The Guardianattempted to contact Secretary General of PMU Phyliss Johnson, however calls were not returned up to press time.
One manager at the company said the sick-out was planned because employees wanted to show solidarity with the workers at the Bahamas Telecommunications Company.
The unions representing BTC workers held two days of protests earlier this week. They are objecting to the government’s plan to sell 51 percent of the company to Cable and Wireless Communications(CWC).
It had also been suggested that NIB’s sick-out was carried out because the employees are aggrieved by the board’s hiring of contract workers.
Cargill said that is also a surprise.
“At any rate, while NIB has hired a number of contract workers this year, we’ve done so to advance the launch of two major national initiatives undertaken in 2010. The first was the introduction of the permanent phase of the Unemployment Benefit, and the second was the launch of the National Prescription Drug Plan,”Cargill said.