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Pressing issues in labour sector

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

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The question of whether Barbados should retain free collective bargaining or move toward state regulation should not be considered in isolation.
Rather, it is just one element in a range of issues that need to be examined in the search for an improved industrial relations system, says former Chief Labour Officer Elsworth Young.
“Voluntarism or its antithesis of statutory regulation cannot be the only factors for consideration in any discussion on reform of our industrial relations system.
“There must be understanding of the many other pressing issues that have a bearing on the choice of industrial relations philosophy and the evolution to a more modern industrial relations system in Barbados,” he said.
Young was speaking last Tuesday at the Grand Salle of the Tom Adams Financial Centre during a panel discussion hosted by the Barbados Employers’ Confederation entitled Voluntarism Or State Regulation: The Way Forward For Barbados.
The University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill lecturer said other issues which need to be addressed include the modernization of labour laws, integration of active labour policy with macroeconomic policy, declining trade-union density and managerial indifference to industrial relations as a critical part of organizational practice.
He noted that voluntarism as an ideology of industrial relations was transposed from Great Britain to the Caribbean in the early 1940s when trade unions were legalized and their supporters have argued that it has functioned effectively.
“As the proverbial saying goes – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but, I ask, should we wait until the system breaks and then panic in trying to fix it?
“For various reasons most CARICOM countries have adopted some form of regulation and Barbados is one of the last countries to retain the traditional model of voluntarism,” Young said.
He noted, however, that recent developments in industrial relations both here and abroad have raised the question as to whether “the voluntarist philosophy with its implied use of discretionary sanctions by unions and employers alike is conducive to guaranteeing industrial stability”.
“The issues of trade union recognition and treatment of rights and interest disputes are major areas of contention.
“Based on our historical experience in these areas, can we truthfully say that voluntarism has provided answers to these two sources of industrial disputes?
“The failure of the voluntarist system to respond expeditiously to these types of disputes in critical economic sectors has to my mind raised questions as to its efficacy as currently constituted,” he said. (NB)