ON THE RIGHT: Lessons and limitations
The Social Partnership is one key area of labour/employer relations in Barbados that has been used to promote greater productivity.
According to [economist Dr Indianna D.] Minto-Coy, a social partnership could provide stability for national growth and development. The formation of the social partnership came at a time when Barbados was experiencing serious macroeconomic challenges in the early 1990s.
The Social Partnership in Barbados was developed to improve productivity and increase efficiency, thus reducing waste and enhancing national performance so as to attract investment and create employment opportunities. The achievement of these objectives was based on the mutual commitment of the parties to clearly defined initiatives, including the establishment of a framework for workers’ security of employment and a reduction in labor disputes. The first tripartite protocol of the social partnership was the Prices and Income Policy (1993-1995). Since then, five other protocols have been signed that have been built on previous ones. In general, the protocols were designed to reverse any erosion of competitiveness by addressing specific economic problems and their social consequences.
Barbados has conditions to facilitate an effective social partnership. Given the high implications of the macroeconomic challenges in the 1990s, the stakes were high for all groups in the partnership to ensure that cooperation existed in an effective manner to return the country to a stable path. Barbados also has a history of consensus among all fractions of society, a formal social partnership framework that is headed by the highest powers in each group (Prime Minister, head of the private sector agency, and head of the confederation of trade unions), a monitoring mechanism, and flexibility to accommodate societal changes.
Barbados has benefited from the existence of the tripartite group. The Social Partnership has been credited for the reduced industrial action. Minto-Coy attributed higher competitiveness, improved ranking in the Human Development Index, and reduced dependence on agriculture and concessionary development financing to the existence of the partnership. Minto-Coy added that the Barbadian society has gained from increased trust and cooperation which has contributed to stability, growth, and development. This, she noted, is quite uncommon in developing countries.
There are limitations of the social partnership. Some constraints to labor market flexibility, in particular, rigidities in working hours, employment, and redundancy were highlighted.
The Shops Act, for example, limits night work to 10 p.m. unless permission is obtained from the Chief Labour Officer. Weekend work and overtime pay also face limitations. [There is] rigidity in employment to the need for employers having to notify and seek approval from the union or ministry for group dismissals under the Social Partnership Agreement, as well as the existence of priority rules for dismissals and reemployment formulated by collective agreement.
The Social Partnership was adopted in Barbados as a way of dealing with macroeconomic management challenges. The partnership has been praised for achieving success in promoting economic development, especially during critical periods.
Although there is more scope for improvement of the partnership, the Barbadian experience has many lessons applicable to other countries in the region during times of severe macroeconomic disequilibrium.