The labor movement has been an integral part of this country for generations.
Without it, it is doubtful the Majority Rule movement would have materialized when it did.
That would have imperiled independence and the Bahamianization effort that lifted tens of thousands of Bahamian families out of poverty and saw those who believed in The Bahamas’ ability to govern our own affairs elevated as never before.
The labor movement, while not perfect, has largely been beneficial to the workers of this country, agitating for some of the best industrial norms in this region of the world.
Though labor unions can be contentious, at the end of the day, The Bahamas is better off for having them.
Dealing with a handful of labor unions is ultimately preferable to dealing with tens of thousands of individual government employees.
While the actions of all labor unions are not always defensible, the negotiation process has worked more often than not.
It would have appeared that the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) understood this better than most, having sought for so long to hitch its wagon to the popularity of the labor movement, going so far as to sign a memorandum of understanding with several labor unions in the run-up to last year’s general election.
It is somewhat surprising, then, to witness some members of the PLP in government so quick to demonize union members who are employees of the government.
Yesterday morning, Minister of State for the Public Service Pia Glover-Rolle insulted not only the Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU), but also inexplicably cast a pall over government employees tantamount to suggesting finance officers knowingly gave themselves a pay increase without the approval of the public service.
Glover-Rolle said, “those finance officers have adjusted the system to ensure that their pay rates were increased based on an approval that they would have gotten that we have not in the public service had any vision of”.
“So, basically, normal government procedure, in terms of adjusting the pay scales, was not observed,” she said.
She suggested the government would seek to recover the money from those employees and said, “… I’m sure consequences will follow.”
The employees were rightly offended and reasonably rejected her claim that an internal audit found that some finance officers made unauthorized adjustments to their salaries resulting in an overpayment of more than $4 million.
Glover-Rolle claims that a government audit report outlined the alleged $4 million error, while providing no report for the union or the public to review.
The way in which she discussed the actions of the finance employees who are positioned throughout the public service led the public to believe that something willfully untoward took place.
Many members of the public were understandably concerned that some government employees charged with handling government finances went rogue for their personal benefit.
What Glover-Rolle glaringly omitted is that the adjustment was done under the former administration, whose ministers believed the law was properly followed.
Therefore, there should be no surprise that numerous union members gathered outside the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) on West Bay Street chanting, “Pia got to go,” and demanding a public apology.
BPSU President Kimsley Ferguson said outside OPM, “We are very concerned when it’s going to incriminate or make it appear as if the persons charged with keeping the public purse are dishonest individuals. So, today, we challenge the minister to either prove what she is saying or to retract her statements.”
The union produced a February 2021 approval letter from former Permanent Secretary of the Public Service Donella Bodie approving the public treasury to increase those workers’ salaries.
The Cabinet clearly approved the increases and the Ministry of the Public Service clearly instructed the salaries to be paid.
That an audit found some step in the legal chain of authority might have been missed does not give Glover-Rolle leave to smear public service workers.
Nor does it mean that any reasonable administration would seek to claw those salary increases back and suggest disciplinary action would be forthcoming when those employees had every reason to believe they were following the law.
Glover-Rolle owes those workers an apology and she owes it to the public to speak more carefully when dealing with the reputation of civil servants who handle public finances.
The labor movement is not the enemy.
It has its flaws, but it is still a necessary partner in the continued development of this country.