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Tensions rise at NIB

LEAH COOPER The Nassau Guardian

President of the Union of Public Officers at NIB Ghion Roach addresses workers at NIB’s Baillou Hill Road headquarters yesterday. TONYA ALEXIS

National Insurance Board (NIB) workers who are members of the Union of Public Officers (UPO) went on work to rule yesterday as tensions over an outstanding industrial agreement boiled over.

UPO President Ghion Roach was flanked by scores of NIB workers as he made the announcement outside the board’s headquarters on Baillou Hill Road.

Roach said workers will be “slowing their pace”.

The Ministry of Public Service and NIB have been in talks with the union, but the two sides are not seeing eye to eye on important financial aspects of the agreement.

Last week, NIB workers walked off the job briefly as the issue escalated.

On Sunday, NIB called for a de-escalation of the matter “in order to seek an amicable solution which does not include the interruption of pension and other benefit payments to Bahamians and residents who rely on NIB”.

NIB said in a statement on Sunday that “while typical agreements in The Bahamas have ranged between six and 10 percent in salary increases over a five-year period, demands made upon NIB by the union have been calculated to be in excess of 20 percent for the five-year contract.”

But Roach said, “[The NIB director] said that our expectations are unrealistic, and we’re trying to break the board, but as you all know, we have not asked for any salary increases in the five years.

“The only thing we asked is that we keep our increments. So, the numbers that have been put forward in the press release are incorrect as well.”

In a statement on Sunday, the UPO said: “The union has not asked for any salary increases outside of what occurs normally. Incremental salary increases are based solely on the performance of the employee, as pay increases are earned and not given. The board has proposed to remove all salary increases over the five-year industrial agreement, as it seeks to continue to take away from the union worker.”

NIB said on Sunday it is operating in good faith. 

Its statement pointed out that the 9th Actuarial Review of the NIB Fund recommended that administrative expenses be reduced to a goal of 10 percent of contributions by 2021.

NIB’s administrative expenses have remained around 17 percent to 21 percent of contributions – an unsustainable level, given the stress on the fund from increasing benefits payments, the statement added.

But Roach said yesterday, “The numbers that the press statement put forward was from an Actuarial Review [that] was done nine years ago.

“So, if you want to hit me with facts, hit me with real facts. We’ve had enough, we’re sick and tired, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

On Friday, union members voted in what the union purported to be a strike vote, but Director of Labour John Pinder, who is the registrar of trade unions, said the poll was not valid due to deficiencies with the UPO’s application notice.

Roach said the vast majority of those who voted want to strike.

“We have 406 members. Two hundred and twenty seven would’ve voted here in [New Providence]. We got 226 yes, and one no,” he said.

“We got 27 yes in Freeport, and three yes in Rock Sound. So we’ve already obtained the majority of the vote based on the islands that did vote on Friday.” 

Roach said the union intends to take the strike vote issue to court. 

Minister for the Public Service and National Insurance Brensil Rolle met with union officials yesterday.

Rolle said, “The meeting was successful. We’re going to sit down and outline what our outstanding issues are. I just wanted to get an indication from them. They’re going to formalize it.”

Asked whether he is concerned that the work to rule will negatively impact NIB’s services, he said, “If workers are on work to rule, that’s all we require them to do. We want them to do what their jobs require them to do.”

Pinder said the two sides are “very close to reaching a deal”. He said the union was requesting a $5,000 lump sum payment and NIB was prepared to agree to $4,000.

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