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The vigilant union?

marciadottin, marciadottin@nationnews.com

Added 27 November 2012


Many, many moons ago, my father told me: “Be careful how you criticize the union, because us poor non-unionized clerks only get an increase when the union has completed its negotiations for its members.” These thoughts continued to guide me when I negotiated for companies with Sir Frank, Sir MacDonald and Sir Roy, as well as Messrs Mayers, Nurse, Richards, Giles, and so on. Over the years, we have constantly overlooked high Port wages (a possible cause of high food prices) and we have heard of high demands in the tourism sector. However, all seemed to “come out in the wash” while Barbados prospered. Along has come our recession. The Barbados Workers’ Union agreed not to negotiate for higher wages generally, employers agreed to major concessions. But poor pensioners saw the interest on their modest savings drop to next to nothing. Small shareholders, accustomed to a dividend, ceased to get any return and the value of their little investment sank lower and lower. In other words, we all suffered; not only union workers. Now we are alarmed by what some call threats if public sector workers are affected and if the Transport Board, Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) are privatized. To whom must we lift up our eyes as Barbadians? Truce Mia Mottley observed last year that there should be close consultation between Government and Opposition members where the interests of our country are concerned. Indeed, I envision a truce in 2013 when Ms Mottley and Chris Sinckler, both cognizant of ever worsening finances and of the size of our public sector and of escalating losses at certain Government agencies, agree that emergency action is needed and that trimming of certain staff is essential. I name two such sectors. The post office: the introduction of Fedex, DHL and so on has considerably reduced post office overseas mail, while email has slashed local and overseas mail. Nowadays we walk in to a post office and observe four cashiers sitting and looking pretty. No one is in the queue.   Stock Exchange: A good idea in time, but that time is past. Night after night we see on  television “Unchanged, Unchanged, Unchanged” on the Stock Report. But mostly I am concerned about Sir Roy’s comments on privatization. If Government decides that CBC, BWA, and/or Transport Board losses can no longer be sustained and a decision is made to change course, especially if the Opposition lends its support, the action becomes law – and substantial penalties should apply if the union breaks the law. We need not be as firm as Maggie Thatcher, but we need some action. Barbados cannot afford such losses. We are a socialist society and a programme could be put in place to train dislodged employees while they draw severance, unemployment and the like. Finally,  the union’s membership has changed and now boasts of many well educated members and management. Perhaps such people can assist in adapting the union to the changes which are quickly coming.  

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