NIB Press Statement: Union protests

On Friday, November 29, 2019 the Union of Public Officers (UPO) staged a demonstration at The National Insurance Board’s Headquarters, Clifford Darling Complex, Baillou Hill Road, which extended beyond the 15-minute tea break period prescribed in the industrial agreement. The action included the blockage of the main entry gate and driveway for a period of time. Via the media, the Board was made aware that the action may be a strike. The Board is awaiting formal confirmation so that appropriate measures may be taken. The public would be aware that NIB is currently in negotiations with the UPO to conclude a 5-year industrial agreement. The current negotiations were on track to conclude within six months (by June 2019) unlike the previous agreement which took some three years to conclude. Since May 2019, the negotiations have been with the Office of the Minister of the Public Service and National Insurance and have continued to progress well, with an agreeable conclusion being very close. Nevertheless, Union Members took a number of industrial actions beginning in May 2019, recently escalating to the Union of Public Officers seeking and successfully obtaining a strike vote in November 2019; where 285 of the 404 members voted in favour of withdrawing their labour. In the current negotiations, the Board has agreed to monetary increases in almost every category of staff benefits, including monthly mileage allowances, acting and responsibility allowances and the introduction of new financial benefits. There have also been increases to the performance-based Christmas bonus which is paid irrespective of the financial performance of the Board. NIB offers an attractive salary and benefits package to its staff, inclusive of health insurance and a staff pension plan. The outstanding issues remain around automatic promotions of certain groups of employees and the compensation schedule (i.e. lump sums and salary add-ons). The UPO has been asked to present a clear, written counterproposal which reflects the views of their members. The Board will also be seeking a clear commitment to productivity and service level improvements. Despite the arbitrary actions taken by Union Members in their recent demonstrations, the Union is again urged to de-escalate, continue the negotiations in good faith, and assist in bring these negotiations to conclusion. NIB remains committed to a reasonable conclusion of the negotiations. The public should be aware that for the 2020 period, Management is projecting a sizeable deficit between contributions income and benefit payments, consistent with actuarial projections for the National Insurance Fund. Further pressure has been placed on the Fund in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian, which has left many Bahamians unemployed, and contributing businesses closed on the second and third largest economies of The Bahamas. Management has sought to prudently manage NIB’s resources by slowing the growth of administrative expenses while preserving the staff complement. Management accepts that the path to improved sustainability is difficult and unpopular, but is necessary for the overall benefit of the thousands of Bahamians who depend on the Fund. Notwithstanding the protests by the Union, Management will continue to focus on its core mission of providing benefit payments to its beneficiaries, and to improving its service delivery.