More worker militancy in country’s future?
Good Barbadian common sense has brought the eight-day strike at Portvale to an end for the time being while negotiations continue. With our country trying to generate every earnable cent of foreign exchange it is vital that there be no more stoppages in this still critical industry before the crop is over.
The Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC) says it has lost at least $286 000 as a result of the stoppage, and that loss compounds the situation with the workers at Andrews Factory having been paid for the past year while not having to work and while the BAMC dealt with issues concerning the restructuring of the industry.
The Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) treated the issue as important not only for the workers directly employed in this sector of the economy. It saw the termination of the Andrews’ workers as symptomatic of a wider disrespect for workers as vital cogs in the economy.
The union’s grouse was therefore rooted in a particular problem which reflected general concerns about what they saw as a major matter of principle.
Accordingly, the union seized this opportunity to ensure that it clearly raised vital issues of concern to workers generally because within recent times there have been public sector workers separated from their jobs in circumstances which gave local unions much disquiet. In fact, the BWU’s general secretary instanced the case of the workers at the Transport Board as similarly worrisome.
One does not have to agree with the union’s case in its entirety to recognise that workers, and employers too, are under great stress at this time. That stress has been brought about by the performance of the economy since 2008, and hence there has been heavy uncertainty about the general economic situation and about keeping one’s job.
It is clear that the union’s general point has merit, but some may disagree with picking a dispute centred at Portvale when the issues related to the Andrews workers more directly than those at Portvale, where the crop had started without much of a hitch. But Andrews is closed and Portvale operates!
This strike tells us a great deal about the geography of power of local unions; and industrial relations experts and watchers may now have to revise their views about the state of industrial harmony within our employment landscape.
This issue comes just after biting criticism by National Union of Public Workers general secretary Dennis Clarke about the utility of the tripartite approach which had worked to the national benefit in the 1990s and for the past two decades!
Clarke complained about how badly the workers had been treated, given what he thinks was their responsible approach concerning wage demands during the recession. Now Sir Roy makes the point that workers generally need to be treated with respect.
And while we agree that respect is due to workers and employers alike, we fear that recent events may have conduced to a sharper and more militant approach by workers and their unions. Time will tell.