By RIEL MAJOR
Tribune Staff Reporter
HUNDREDS of civil servants stormed Bay Street yesterday to protest for higher wages and to negotiate their outstanding industrial agreement.
Protestors, started at the old City Market on Market Street, chanting “Minnis has to go” in solidarity as they descended on Cabinet shortly after 10am.
They waved signs, which read, “Fair wages Decent work”, “The cost of living is too high,” “Justice; When justice is done it brings joy to the righteous but terror to evil doers,” and “Justice; Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, ensure justice for those being crushed. Speak up for the poor and helpless…” - all singing “Bind Us Together” in solidarity.
The Bahamas Public Services Union President Kimsley Ferguson told reporters the people of this country are “burdened”, and someone has to “shoulder the experience” they are having.
Mr Ferguson said: “We need a response to the concerns of these people. Economically these people are paid beneath survival and we need their heads to come up above water so that they can breathe. And we need the burden of value added tax and the cost of living increases these people are very challenged and so I’m grateful that they would stand behind us as we make every effort to represent them and to address the concerns that has the immediate effect on their lives.
“We are going to be here…we are going to ask the person that represents our country our nation and hope that he would be respectful enough to come and say something to the workers of this country. That would be satisfying enough to let them know how he is going to move forward with addressing the increase of salary.”
He added: “We are going to embrace every opportunity to cause our voices to be heard. As the workers of this country we would be delighted to sit outside and hear what the government is going to present. We are happy that the Cabinet ministers are going to be in place it means that they would have a forum so some decisions can be made.”
Mr Ferguson said he and the prime minister weren’t able to come to an agreement relating to the $1200 lump sum payment.
“We would have had a discussion with the prime minister on receiving some funding which is part of our industrial agreement. The lump sum payment and if the agreement was signed, we would have received it in 2018. However, the discussions were with the view to get some of the money to assist our members with getting their children ready for back to school. The prime minister made a commitment for some $1200,” he said.
“However, I found myself in another negotiation with him making some offer of two $600 lump sum payments which in our view was not going to be sufficient for the membership to prepare themselves for back to school. We weren’t able to come to an agreement hence the members of the public service are here demonstrating in the rain.”
Bernard Evans, the National Congress of Trade Unions (NCTU) president, said he attended the protest to “have our affiliate’s back”.
Mr Evans said: “It’s been a long time and they have been agitating for two three years now. We had to come out and show our support this is what unions are all about. This the plight of the people, the civil servants are normally those just above the poverty line maybe some just below. One thousand two hundred means a lot to them and so we are out here to show to Mr Ferguson and the union our full support.
“If they aren’t satisfied today, they’ll come out here tomorrow, but this will not end until we get the resolution and the desired results that they want. I would hope (he comes and addressed the people.) If he said he’s the prime minister of the people, he cares for the people. He told me personally he cares about the people so I don’t see why he would not come out and address the people.”
Charles Stubbs, a protester, said he wants Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnie to go.
Mr Stubbs said: “I’m here representing this country; I am representing the people. In the Bahamas it’s been far too long that we’ve been taken for a ride in our country. The Bahamas is set to take off right now and we are not (leaving) from here until…it only takes a stroke of a pen to get this thing right. Even if they sign it, we still want Minnis them to go.
“The Bahamas is worth more than what Minnis them do to us. (sic) The civil servants need their money...before they give the civil servants their money, they decided that they gone give it to Brent Symonette…not good in our country.”
One protestor, who referred to herself as “Diva” told The Tribune: “If Mr Turnquest has sufficient money to buy one loaf of bread, please give me half a loaf of bread so I can feed my children.”
“My thing is I don’t have young children who go to school, but I have a niece who has two young children who is not working. Her mother is not here. If I get mines, I can help her to help her children. Come on man meet me halfway.
“I work for what I get but meet me halfway. If you get why I can’t have. One thing I could have say about Perry Christie if he had one loaf of bread, everybody had a slice.”
Another protestor, who referred to himself as Mr Russell said civil servants were hurting “from time” under both governments.
“We here in solidarity trying to get the prime minister’s attention to let him know that we need our money. It’s been too long; we are tired of it and we are not going to move until the prime minister sees that we are serious.”
One civil servant, who referred to herself as Ms Cartwright said the prime minister “didn’t learn from the PLP’s mistake”.
She said: “What the government is doing isn’t right because everybody has to live. Millions of dollars going to (BPL), the light always off, millions going to the Marco Alert, millions going to the airport so what happen to us and then (Dr Minnis) is saying to the public he is confident he’s going back in. Where he going back in? Where?’ I want the FNM to know elections are coming so be ready for what you get. I’m a civil servant that’s me.”
Maria Miller, protestor, said the government is responsible for the people and the people shouldn’t have to “beg” for a raise.
Ms Miller said: “We haven’t had a raise for a very long time. Our salary is not enough to accommodate. How the country is running we can’t make it on this salary. It’s about time…you could get the VAT money and deal with us; you could get the number money and deal with us. We deserve it so to me you are dealing with all the other civil servants who you feel like are important.
“‘What about the mediocre people?’ Then you all want to talk about crime. ‘You want decrease crime?’ Give the people good wages. Let us live.”
The prime minister did not attend the protest to address the issues of the civil servants. Mr Kimsley said he was “very disappointed that the chief executive of the nation chose not to come to speak to the people.”
He added: “I don’t know what his appointment schedule would have been like but however when the masses of the country assemble somebody should have come out. Even if a representative on his behalf should have come out and say something to the people.
“It’s really disappointing. I don’t know if persons are taking us (serious) but we will continue to agitate until such time as we get an affirmative response.”