Members of the Union of Public Officers (UPO) continued industrial action yesterday at the National Insurance Board’s (NIB) Baillou Hill Road headquarters as the deadline to complete their pending industrial agreement has passed, and a number of issues remain unresolved.
UPO President Ghion Roach said yesterday that the union was staging a sick out, which does not count as an official strike.
Last month, 98 percent of union members employed at NIB voted to strike, and Roach told reporters that he is prepared to use the union’s strike certificate if he has to.
There are three outstanding clauses standing in the way of the contract’s completion, according to Roach.
“It’s the compensation packet and a couple administrative clauses as it relates to schedules,” he said.
Roach said he last spoke with Minister of the Public Service Brensil Rolle on November 20, and hasn’t heard from him since.
“The minister would’ve given me a deadline for November 30, and November 30 passed on Saturday,” Roach said.
“We went back to negotiations on the 5th. We stalled and we have not been in negotiations since the 8th.
“So, the 30th has passed, the deadline is over, and we will continue to do what we have to do.”
Asked to comment on the matter, Rolle said yesterday: “The deal was that we would come to some agreement before November 30 or no later than November 30, but the NIB [union broke] the deal.
“NIB started demonstrations before the 30th. So, the ball is in their court now.”
He added that union members protested three days before the initial deadline.
Rolle added that he spoke with the union president last Tuesday to ask him to speak with his negotiator.
“Protests will not ensure an agreement,” Rolle continued.
“That’s not the way we negotiate in The Bahamas. We negotiate in good faith.
“I gave them a commitment. They did not live up to their part of the deal. Now, it’s back to me? I don’t know how that’s possible.”
In a statement yesterday, NIB indicated that the board agreed to monetary increases in almost every category of staff benefits, including monthly mileage allowances, acting and responsibility allowances and the introduction of new financial benefits.
“There have also been increases to the performance-based Christmas bonus which is paid [regardless] of the financial performance of the board,” the statement said.
“NIB offers an attractive salary and benefits package to its staff, inclusive of health insurance and a staff pension plan. The outstanding issues remain around automatic promotions of certain groups of employees and the compensation schedule (i.e. lump sums and salary add-ons).
“The UPO has been asked to present a clear, written counterproposal which reflects the views of their members. The board will also be seeking a clear commitment to productivity and service level improvements.”
NIB also urged union members to “de-escalate, continue the negotiations in good faith, and assist in bringing these negotiations to a conclusion”.
It continued, “Management has sought to prudently manage NIB’s resources by slowing the growth of administrative expenses while preserving the staff complement. Management accepts that the path to improved sustainability is difficult and unpopular, but is necessary for the overall benefit of the thousands of Bahamians who depend on the fund.”