A Nazi era pastor, Martin Niemoller is credited with having said of the German authorities,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
Now in Barbados, they have come for Akanni McDowall, President of the National Union of Public Workers and I won’t let history repeat itself. I am therefore forced to speak out because I am a trade unionist.
When I first heard the rumour of Akanni’s impending reversion to his substantive post, I called his head of department, who happens to be a good friend of mine, to ask what they were doing with Akanni. I warned my friend that it was a criminal offence, under section 40A of the Trade Union Act, to dismiss a workman or adversely affect his employment or alter his position to his prejudice because that workman engaged in trade union activity. Mind you, the penalty is only a small fine not exceeding $1,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding six months or both.
My friend insisted that my sources would have misled me since, as head of department, he would be required to write a report on Akanni’s performance before any action is taken and so far no one had even mentioned the topic.
After that interaction with my friend and now that Akanni has been reverted to his substantive post, I could be wrong but I am convinced of three things until the contrary is proven. Firstly, that my sources are unimpeachable; secondly, that his demise is as a direct result of his trade union activity; and thirdly, that his demotion was ordered from a very high level.
My understanding is that Mr. McDowall was acting continuously on a series of short term contracts for over two years in senior established posts. Further, his latest one was due to expire on October 31, 2016, however before its expiration, he was abruptly reverted. It would appear that they, whoever they are, couldn’t wait to take him out.
The original 2007 Public Service Act required the Public Service Commission to fill vacant posts within three months but they never met that standard. The Personnel Administration Division (PAD) argued that the period was too short and Government responded by amending the act in 2010 to extend the time to one year. Even with that extension, PAD continued to give workers successive three-month contracts some of which have been extended for years, despite the upper limit of one year that is mandated by the Recruitment and Employment Code.
The sinister thing about the authorities’ refusal to follow the law and make the appointments when due is that they revert officers, who are acting in higher posts, and terminate temporary officers without going through the disciplinary procedure. To my mind, their behaviour amounts to an abuse of power since temporary officers who are acting in established posts; and appointed officers, who are acting in higher posts, have the same rights as the substantive holders for the duration of the acting or temporary appointment in accordance with section 94 of the Constitution.
When I was growing up and suffered a stroke of bad luck, my grandmother would say that all things come together for good to those that love God. I thought that it was one of hers but subsequently found out that she was quoting the Bible. Therefore, I can only hope that some good can come of this martyrdom of a young trade union leader. The heavy handed action against him is nothing new. Countless other public workers have suffered similar fates. It is just that he is the most high profile victim to date. Maybe his celebrity might bring attention to the wide scale avoidance of proper procedures in the Public Service.