BWU more than about wages
The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) does not as general policy respond to opinions expressed in the media. If the comments were personal expressions that policy of no comment would have been maintained; but the views of Wednesday, December 29 are the Editorial of the THE?NATION. Unless the role of Editorials has changed, it represents the most serious expression of your establishment on issues that impact, or should, on your readership.
The inevitable response from you will be that you have referred to no union by name. While that may be true, I make bold to say to you that those public sector unions, which are part of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, have endeavoured over time to shift the agenda away from the mere treatment of wages and enhanced conditions of employment.
The current president and or the general secretary will no doubt be happy to fill in those gaps in your history of the efforts by the trade union movement to achieve greater democracy and higher levels of industrial participation.
I am satisfied however that the thrust of your Editorial was towards the Barbados Workers’ Union, since this is the only functioning private sector union and the gravamen of your submission was of necessity private sector driven.
Had you enquired from any neutral party you may have been shown copies of material where the Congress and where the BWU have committed themselves to the struggle for share ownership programmes for workers. Barbados knows that we have as recently as December 2010 continued our call for employers in Barbados to provide shares for workers.
It has appeared in the national Press as recently as 2010 where the general secretary of the BWU has publicly commended the Williams Group of Companies for their commendable share ownership programme, and where he used the occasion of further expansion by Chefette to continue the campaign. Had you simply asked, we could have told you that using the medium of collective bargaining we have negotiated that benefit for some of our divisions.
Really THE?NATION would be doing us all a great favour if it would campaign with us in the labour movement to get the Employment Rights Bill passed into law; to get freedom of association as a right ring-fenced by legislation; to have ILO Convention 158 (re dismissals at the instance of the employer) given empowerment by law; and to protect workers’ representatives at the workplace.
And this list is only part, a small part, of those human rights, human respect and human decency issues that trade unions will never be able to cease fighting for.
THE?NATION could redeem itself by examining what are some of the other important support lines that trade?unions in Barbados provide for their members. In the BWU, for example, we have established an industrial counselling department. We did that about ten years before Government established its?Employee Assistance?Programme.
At another time we will explain how our initiative assists workers, empowers them, reforms and stabilizes them and provides the environment to have a “voice” at the workplace. We encourage our members and the wider community to think beyond wages to the quality of their lives by pursuing healthy lifestyles. We are currently battling to get extra-regional funding for safety and health enhancement initiatives in the region, including measurements tools to facilitate workplace safety committees.
We hope in this project to deal as well with the community as a whole and help in such areas as indiscriminate spraying, chemical discharge downwind, and the flow of chemicals into our potable water.
Trade unions see these matters as critical to our development as communities. We have done significant work, for example, in the area of chronic non-communicable diseases. Professor Trevor Hassell, our illustrious friend, will confirm our work in this area since 1996.
Similarly Dr Carol Jacobs, whose contribution to the fight against HIV and AIDS?must be appreciated. She will confirm our efforts to deal with the Barbados quality of life and not just with increased wages.
There is much more, including efforts to find ways of providing savings at the market. I wish however to refer to our attempts to make housing affordable. The BWU continues our claim that housing in Barbados is too expensive, and that land is being priced out of the reach of the bulk of our citizens.
We have sought to purchase land and use it to influence the price. THE?NATION could help in this campaign.
In everything I have said, THE?NATION will hopefully find a movement – that is what we call it: a “movement”.
We have never claimed perfection; but because of the democratic structure of our organizations, and because of our clearly stated raison d’etre, our rules and objectives, we seek to amend, adjust, sometimes even to redefine our programmes of action consistent with the realities facing our nation.
And the stark truth is that our work and our contributions can be seen by whoever chooses to look.
Sir Roy Trotman is the general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union.