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NIB insists it’s operating in good faith

As the union representing National Insurance Board (NIB) employees seeks legal advice over a nullified strike vote held on Friday, the National Insurance Board (NIB) insists it is operating in good faith on an outstanding industrial agreement.

Labour Director John Pinder has declared that vote was not legally held.

Last Wednesday, scores of NIB workers who are members of the Union of Public Officers walked off the job at NIB’s headquarters on Baillou Hill Road over what they characterized as stalled talks.

NIB said yesterday it is assisting the Ministry of the Public Service to conclude negotiations on the new agreement in an environment where the board has to improve its efficiency targets and better manage administrative costs.

Negotiations were moved from the executive team and board to the minister of the public service and national insurance by the union in May 2019, after three months of negotiations, the statement read.

“Notwithstanding this, tremendous progress had been made during that time to increase staff benefits substantially within the parameters set by the board. Only a few items were left to be concluded.

“While typical agreements in The Bahamas have ranged between six and 10 percent in salary increases over a five-year period, demands made upon NIB by the Union of Public Officers have been calculated to be in excess of 20 percent for the five-year contract.”

But the union said in a statement in response to NIB’s statement, “The union has not asked for any salary increases outside of what occurs normally.

“Incremental salary increases are based solely on the performance of the employee, as pay increases are earned and not given. The board has proposed to remove all salary increases over the five-year industrial agreement as it seeks to continue to take away from the union worker.

“The board cites its attempts to be prudent while we have seen mass hiring and promotions at the management level and hiring of numerous consultants.”

In its statement, NIB said its focus and expectations include increased staff productivity through stronger performance management tools to ensure that NIB delivers better services to The Bahamian public.

“NIB maintains a generous package on education and training programs, health insurance and an employee pension plan. Over the six-month period between January and June 2019, over 56 staff and management (about 10 percent of total staff) were promoted, mostly through competitive processes and to fill vacant positions,” the statement read.

“The National Insurance Board reminds that its funds/income are derived from the contributions of workers and employers. NIB is not a for profit company. Instead, contribution income is held in trust for the payment of benefits such as retirement and pension benefits, maternity, unemployment, survivor and funeral benefits and assistances.”

The statement pointed out that the 9th Actuarial Review of the NIB Fund recommended that administrative expenses be reduced to a goal of 10 percent of contributions by 2021.

NIB’s administrative expenses have remained around 17 percent to 21 percent of contributions – an unsustainable level, given the stress on the fund from increasing benefits payments, the statement added.

It read, “The National Insurance Board must exercise prudence in the growth of its staff costs as highlighted in its Actuarial Report so as to not jeopardize the continued existence of the fund as [a] source of partial income replacement to workers in their time of need.

“The National Insurance Board has called upon its unions to de-escalate this matter in order to seek an amicable solution which does not include the interruption of pension and other benefit payments to Bahamians and residents who rely on NIB. It is understood in negotiation that no party achieves all that it wants, but instead a middle ground can be reached.”

The statement continued that “NIB’s executive team has embarked upon an ambitious strategic plan to modernize its operations, improve customer service; provide more of its services on an online basis, improve employee productivity through training and better performance management, strengthen its governance and ensure the solvency of the fund for generations to come by sound financial management.”

Last night, Ghion Roach, president of the Union of Public Officers, said union members voted in New Providence, Grand Bahama and Eleuthera and the union is seeking legal advice from attorney Obie Ferguson over the labor director’s determination that the vote was invalid.

NIB said negotiations are expected to continue today at the office of the minister for the public service and national insurance.

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