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EDITORIAL – Trade unions must come into 21st century

marciadottin, [email protected]

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BARBADOS BOASTS OF a stable political, financial and industrial relations climate. The existence of a tripartite body, so far able to reason together, seems unbelievable in the eyes of other countries, developed and developing.
As true as this has been, one needs to review the situation, bearing in mind the changing world economy and the pressures being exerted on households worldwide. The recent near collapse of the world’s financial system has left countries tottering as they fight for survival amidst a growing debt trap, surging commodity prices and the relentless climb of energy costs, due largely to increasing prices of oil and its by-products.
Our country, recognising the downward slide of the plantation economy and the virtual death of sugar, diversified its economy towards tourism and financial services with encouraging success. Today, tourism is our main foreign exchange earner, with financial services not far behind.
Whilst this change in direction speaks warmly to our determination and commitment to succeed, it is worrying when one considers that retail shops are often closed when tourist liners arrive on Sundays or bank holidays, including Christmas and Easter.
It is accepted that we are a Christian society with certain customs and traditions, although these were handed down from our colonial past. Nevertheless, times have changed and we must keep abreast with the demands of a more sophisticated consumer. To have shops closed largely because the unions continue to claim concern for workers and the potential for exploitation, says little when one is aware that there are workers who would be willing to be part of a 24 hour shift system.
The current economic climate requires Government to reduce debt, improve productivity, curb expenditure and improve revenues. Since 2009 there has been a worldwide decline in revenue collections. It therefore means we must cut expenditure. All agree the last measure to be implemented should be layoffs and all businesses in Barbados are supportive of this notion.
However, in the face of such challenges as exist and given the fact that increased taxation is sure to lead to stifling of the economy, the voices of the union leadership can be heard to be creating panic that layoffs are imminent. While not the case as yet, we all know reduction in employment numbers is almost certain to occur.
The role of the unions at this time ought, therefore, to be promotion of multitasking, improved productivity and an appetite among workers for self-employment. Going hand in hand with this should be a campaign for excellence of service such that tourists and locals alike long to repeat the experience of interfacing with Barbadian workers.
Public sector reform, NISE and all the other touted initiatives have borne little fruit. It is time that Government, the private sector, the unions, yes the unions and all Barbados profess zero tolerance for substandard service and unacceptable productivity levels.
The high levels of uncollected revenues tell the tale, as do the leakages reported in the Auditor General’s reports which have gone unpunished.
Where are the voices of the unions?