EDITORIAL: Unions, Govt should take a time out
IF EVER there was a need for a “time out” in Barbados, now is that time.
The industrial relations climate has very quickly moved from cold to warm to hot with a very real threat of an explosion that could have catastrophic consequences for all Barbadians.
It is easy for anyone to inject politics into the current situation and accuse the Barbados Labour Party of infiltrating the trade union movement, or the current Democratic Labour Party administration of failing to act decisively at an early stage to nip things in the bud.
But the truth of the matter is that we have long passed the stage of casting blame – even though in the interest of preventing a recurrence at some stage there will have to be a close examination of how we got here. What we need now is for level heads and mature brains to prevail.
It is time for the bosses of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) to stop prefacing every discussion with the declaration that nothing short of reinstatement of the “retired” workers or their payment until they reach the age of 67 will suffice. You have already made your point and it is now time for a more conciliatory tone – even without conceding that your interpretation might be wrong.
Thankfully, Minister of Industry Donville Inniss, who can be viewed as speaking on behalf of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation, the other principal player in the dispute, has tempered that agency’s constant refrain that it is sticking to its position that it followed the law and has no reason to rescind the retirement letters.
And while we welcome Prime Minister Freundel Stuart’s decision to finally address the matter yesterday, his language was anything but helpful, coming as it did on a day when both the NUPW and the Barbados Workers’ Union had scheduled major meetings of all their members to discuss escalation.
Labelling the leadership of the two unions as youthful, immature and extreme, equating their stance to a fanatic with a loaded gun and making reference to robbers and rapists; and engaging in bluster, bullying and blackmail and choke and rob industrial relations will hardly help the cause. And while we understand why the Prime Minister might be agitated by the state of affairs, there is no excuse for his approach yesterday morning.
Quite frankly, even more imprudent on such a critical day was his threat to use the provisions of the Constitution to protect the “peace, order and good governance of Barbados”. Implicit in what the Prime Minister said, in our view, is that the unions, through their actions, are a threat to the “peace, order and good governance” of the country. If that does not amount to escalating the situation, then we don’t know what would.
So we return to where we started. The best thing for Barbados right now is for all sides to call a time out. This can be achieved if the Prime Minister chooses to call a meeting of the full Social Partnership rather than galvanising party political lines by recalling Parliament.
Our Social Partnership has proven before that it can resolve far more complex disputes and if we are really interested in the “peace, order and good governance” of the country, then this less contentious route that calls together a body of men and women with the intellectual capacity and social maturity to deal dispassionately with the issues would be an obvious choice.
Let’s take the time out – for Barbados’ sake.