Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s allegation that the head of the union leading an ongoing nurses’ strike is playing politics, has put her in the firing line of Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley who has accused her of doing the exact same thing.
Stopping short of describing her actions as hypocritical, Atherley said it was also “awkward” that Mottley would accuse Opposition Senator Caswell Franklyn of “playing politics”, while she surrounded herself with other union leaders and spoke of some of the accomplishments of her administration for public sector workers.
“I certainly thought it was disappointing, it was awkward, it is an insult to the intelligence of the Barbadian public that you can accuse somebody of playing politics while at the same time yourself playing politics,” he said.
Atherley was responding to developments surrounding striking healthcare workers who are members of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) which Franklyn leads.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Mottley, who received full support from other union reps and the private sector in attendance, condemned the strike action which is said to have affected the national COVID-19 vaccination drive.
The Prime Minister indicated that the pay of the striking healthcare workers would be docked for the duration of their time off the job.
“It is my considered judgment that this matter is not industrial; this matter is political and we are in the silly season,” said Mottley.
However, Atherley told Barbados TODAY: “What I do feel is a strong sense of disappointment over the Prime Minister’s tone and statements yesterday to attribute Senator Franklyn’s motives or motivation purely to politics and an attempt to be part of the activities of what she called the silly season. I think that is unbecoming in this instance. How could she say that without certainty and evidence?”
“The thing is that when she makes that statement she is making that statement in a context where she herself is playing politics,” he added.
Atherley said he was especially concerned that the press briefing was convened following what he assumed was a Social Partnership meeting, with Mottley having representatives of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), Congress of Trade Union and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) and the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) at her side.
“I think that is pretty unbecoming. You cannot be at the same time calling out Senator Franklyn for being political when you yourself are being political. Here it is, you put these labour leaders in an awkward and compromised position because they are now part of what you have turned into a mounted political platform to lay an assault against the opposition forces which you say are allegedly arrayed against you in this matter
“I can no more accuse Senator [Toni] Moore [general secretary of the BWU], who is a member of the Barbados Labour Party and was a part of that press briefing yesterday, of being political than the Prime Minister can accuse Senator Franklyn of being political,” insisted Atherley.
“She made reference to the 3,000 people appointed in the public service, legislation that was brought to Parliament, she talked about the minimum wage, the first [pay increase] to the public service in 13 years – that is mounting a political platform and having the benefit, beside you, of innocent parties who perhaps had sat down there for other reasons.”
Varying numbers of UWU member nurses have been staying off the job for just over a week now, protesting unsatisfactory work conditions and other grievances, as well as a proposal by Government to require them to be fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus or undergo periodic testing under a Safe Zones policy.
The UWU leader maintained that he has been following the industrial relations protocols and strike action was only taken as a last resort.
Franklyn, who dismissed Mottley’s assertion that he was playing politics, also questioned why other labour unions were involved in the discussions.
“Now why would the Unity Workers’ Union be on strike and the Prime Minister hold meetings with the people who are not on strike to sit down and attack the people who are on strike? Think about that. That is one of the protocols that you should observe,” Franklyn told Barbados TODAY last evening.
Bishop Atherley said he had no doubt that Senator Franklyn had gone through the correct channels in trying to get the nurses’ issues resolved.
The Opposition Leader made it clear that he did not consult with or advise him on labour-related matters, adding that the UWU boss was “a responsible union head”.
“I believe he will lead and call matters as he sees them,” Atherley said.