The protest at Rawson Square.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
PRIME Minister Dr Hubert Minnis hopes that union representatives will come to appreciate the less-than-ideal state of the government’s finances when he meets them on Saturday, but says he understands the anger and frustration of Bahamian workers.
He spoke to ZNS about the upcoming meeting yesterday after members of the Bahamas Public Services Union marched and protested in front of the Churchill Building on Bay Street where the Cabinet Office is located.
BPSU is demanding a one time $1,200 lump sum for its 20,000 or so members but the government has offered to give them a split payment of $600 now and $600 in December.
The union is currently negotiating a new industrial agreement.
Dr Minnis told ZNS: “I understand the anger and the frustration of the Bahamian populace, especially those in the public service. We are doing all we can. We must understand that when we came into power, we met the economy and the landscape at the bottom of the pit. The economy has grown and continues to grow and we are taking ourselves out of the pit, but still have a lot to do. We want to ensure that we can continue to provide opportunities for everybody. We have organised a meeting on Saturday with unions and all relevant personnel, all my ministers, so that we can make the unions know the state of the economy so that we can forge the way forward with the involvement of everybody, inclusive of the unions and we would see the direction we need to take not just for a few, but for the entire Bahamas.”
Dr Minnis also addressed recent unrest among junior doctors who went on strike on Wednesday, plunging the healthcare system into emergency mode. Bahamas Doctors Union representatives said they had a favourable meeting with Dr Minnis on Wednesday but will continue their strike until their concerns are satisfactorily addressed.
Dr Minnis said: “They have a number of longstanding issues and they will continue the discussion with the Public Hospitals Authority on Monday but I want to assure the Bahamian public that in no circumstance will their health be compromised and we will do everything to ensure that the health of the Bahamian people is not compromised and will continue to be offered the best possible (healthcare services) to them.”
Members of the BPSU make an average of $19,000 a year, with some earning less than $1,000 each month, Labour Director John Pinder told The Tribune yesterday.
Asked to contextualize the BPSU’s concerns, he said about ten percent of members make less than $12,000 a year, with 80 percent making under $30,000.
“Most of the lowest paid civil servants are members of the BPSU,” he said.
He added that contrary to claims, members received a raise as part of its last industrial agreement which he negotiated and had signed in 2014.
“When we said to the previous government that the yearly increment increase would make it so that the minimum salary in the public sector would be $12,000 per annum, they cut it at $11,600,” he said. “The other $400 was never added like it was supposed to so a lot of them are still under $12,000 per annum. This government has decided to look at it because the prime minister has said he is concerned about the bottom line of the lowest income people because he thinks $220 per week is too low. He had asked me to make some recommendations and I had recommended $300 a week.”
BPSU members making less than $12,000 a year do mostly janitorial work with those making more than this figure typically doing clerical work. On the high end, a few senior BPSU members make about $45,000 a year.
Mr Pinder said he believes BPSU members deserve a raise.
“What the union is looking at is that the last negotiations we had, there was no VAT involved. Since then there has been the introduction of VAT and then an increase in VAT,” he said.