THE ISSUE: Partnership has its challenges
Some individuals and organisations have hailed Barbados’ maintenance of a Social Partnership for more than 20 years as an example for other countries in the region and the world to emulate.
But how relevant is this tripartite relationship – established by Government, the private sector and trade unions at the height of economic difficulties in the early 1990s – today?
With Barbados again deep in financial strife this and related questions have been voiced increasingly – especially in the context of layoffs in the public and private sector. Such moves have prompted trade unions and others to question the relevance of the Social Partnership.
Over time there have been disagreements between partners and in recent times the strain on the relationship has been highlighted by the decision of the island’s largest union – the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) – to withdraw as a member of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados.
CTUSAB?is the umbrella body for trade unions and represents their interestswithin the tripartite body. The fracture means the BWU is no longer involved in the Social Partnership.
Ironically, this was partly as a result of a disagreement with the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB). CTUSAB is the recognised umbrella body for trade unions.
In June, the CTUSAB and the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) issued a joint statement recommending a more focused approach to the Social Partnership.
CTUSAB president Cedric Murrell and BPSA chairman Alex McDonald said while they believed the arrangement was still useful, it needed refocusing.
“CTUSAB and the BPSA as members of the Social Partnership of Barbados have reaffirmed their commitment to continued collaboration with a view of identifying initiatives and strategies that could lead to enhanced productivity and efficiency in Barbados, and to ensuring the island’s competitiveness,” they said.
“The bodies have accepted that this approach will redound to furtherance of the work of the Social Partnership, as it is anticipated that the discussions at that level will move beyond industrial relations issues to that of governance.”
Last month Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, who chairs the Social Partnership, acknowledged its challenges, voicing his own concern about the BWU’s absence.
“I want to find out how best that union thinks it can contribute to the national dialogue. It must be noted that the union played a critical role in bringing into existence the Social Partnership,” he told reporters.
“It was a matter of regret that the cleavage developed, but I am satisfied that it can be mended because I think there are mature persons on both sides. I believe we can get a modus vivendi worked out between those two arms of the labour movement that can ensure there is no further fracture in the social partnership,” Stuart added.
Notwithstanding such challenges, Barbados Social Partnership has been praised internationally.
In a paper entitled Barbados: Fostering Economic Development Through Social Partnership, the International Labour Organisation concluded:
“The Barbadian experiment has revealed interesting characteristics in social partnership which are by and large specific to the country and rooted in historical, cultural and political relationships.
“In view of this, any idea of exporting the model may not be a very promising path to follow. At best, the Barbadian model can serve to inform other partners elsewhere of the elements of a successful social dialogue.”
Economist Dr. Indianna D. Minto-Coy also found that “Much of the interest in social partnerships in the Caribbean are due to the experience of . . .Barbados, which has been hailed as a model of good governance for small developing states.”