A day after 420 doctors on New Providence and Grand Bahama went on strike, hundreds of members of the Bahamas Public Services Union (BPSU) marched on Bay Street to the Cabinet office, demanding money they say is owed to them by the government.
The march started at the old City Market building on Market Street and ended at the Churchill Building on Bay Street.
Hundreds of BPSU members holding placards and Bahamians flags chanted, “We want our money and we want it now.”
The union members waited outside Cabinet for nearly an hour as rain beat down on them. It was unclear if Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis was at the office yesterday.
Minister of Labour Dion Foulkes said that Minnis and Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, along with other Cabinet ministers, will be meeting with the BPSU and other public sector unions on Saturday morning.
“As a result of the Cabinet meeting [on Tuesday], the prime minister made an undertaking when he toured UB (the University of The Bahamas) on Monday that the BPSU matter would be discussed in Cabinet on Tuesday,” he said.
“That was done.
“We decided to engage the seven public sector unions represented by Mr. Obie Ferguson and Mr. Bernard Evans, and I spoke to both presidents and both presidents agreed that they would participate in the meeting on Saturday.”
As his members stood outside the Cabinet office yesterday, BPSU President Kimsley Ferguson said the union’s Industrial Agreement expired in 2017.
Since then, he said, the BPSU has proposed a $250 base salary increase and a lump sum payment of $2,500 and another $200 pay raise for its workers.
However, the union members have complained of stalled negotiations with the government.
“We’re here to see the prime minister to get some answers as it relates to compensation for the industrial agreement,” Ferguson said.
He added, “We need to get an understanding from the prime minister as to how they’re going to address industrial agreements by virtue of the fact that nothing has actually been allocated and so now we are just here to see the prime minister to ask him some questions.”
Ferguson said he wrote to the government at least twice about a “breach” of the Industrial Regulations due to what he claimed was the government’s failure to come to the negotiating table within a 45-day period.
He said the government eventually came to the table.
“We completed all the non-financial aspects of the agreement, but when it came to the financial aspects of the agreement, it appears as though everything fell through,” he said.
Ferguson said the union was particularly concerned when the government’s 2019-2020 budget included no allocations for public servant’s salary increases.
“We need to get an understanding now of how the entire Industrial Agreement is going to be addressed,” he said.
“It was very noticeable for us that nothing was placed in the budget for increases for public servants, and that is our concern. So, if nothing was placed in the budget for public servants, then our concern is, how are you going to address that?”
He added, “We would have made application in our Industrial Agreement for a $250 increase to the base salary.
“Then, the lump sum payment, which would have been $2,500. We were trying to get at least a portion of that. The attempts to do that appear to have failed.
“And in the third year we had asked for a $200 increase of salary to the base, and so that’s the three years of the industrial agreement right there. So, we need now to get an understanding of how the entire thing is to be addressed.
“A lot of people are of the view that we’re asking the government to give us something. We are in negotiations. Apparently, the industrial relations fell through because we haven’t heard from the government in about 12 to 13 weeks, and so hence we are here asking exactly how the government is going to address those concerns.”
Minister of Public Service and National Insurance Brensil Rolle said last week that the government has been negotiating in good faith. He said that the only thing still pending was the salary discussion because Turnquest was “crunching numbers”.