EDITORIAL: Regular meetings a good sign
All patriotic Barbadians will welcome the announcement that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will be holding periodic meetings with the executive of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) to ensure constant dialogue on important matters is maintained between the two sides.
This statement was issued following a courtesy call by the executive on Mr Stuart, and it seems like we have opened a new era for the better in relations between Government and the unions representing the public sector workers. The Prime Minister also reminded us that he also held periodic discussions with the Barbados Workers’ Union under the leadership of Sir Roy Trotman and that he expected this to continue with the latter’s successor.
Given our system of governance, there has to be a symbiotic relationship between the unions representing the public sector and the Government, for they are working towards the same goal, but perhaps from different ends of the spectrum. Government policy is aimed at improving and enhancing the national welfare, but how successful such a venture can be depends also on the effectiveness of the public servants whose mandate is to put into effect the policies shaped and determined by the elected members of the legislature.
Sometime ago, another prime minister, no doubt frustrated by the slow pace of executing policies that he held dear to his heart, was heard to complain and call the public workers an army of occupation.
This memorable epithet was perhaps meant to sting those indolent workers into more spirited action, but it may have been a reminder to public sector workers that their only allegiance should be to the Government of the day and that their constitutional duty is to get the Government’s policies executed irrespective of their personal inclinations.
Regular dialogue therefore must be welcomed as an agent in the process of a more productive relationship between the Government as a model employer and public sector workers as faithful and productive workers, and it is just as well that the nettle has been grasped in an effort to improve relations in this regard.
A few months ago, robust language coming from both the Prime Minister and the NUPW suggested that a retreat from the traditional ways of doing things in industrial relations matters might have been the case, and words like “bullying”, “bluster” and “blackmail” were thrown across the airwaves in the BIDC dispute.
We would like to think that such vocal firepower would have been placed firmly behind us, and we note with some satisfaction that NUPW president Akanni McDowall has said that he too prefers urgent matters to be dealt with across the table.
This decision by the Prime Minister to hold meetings should not only make for a more harmonious atmosphere, but it will also allow both sides to make better progress in negotiating the knotty but unavoidable problems which will present themselves from time to time. Supersession is one such problem.
It is a thorny topic which may have been looked at in the Carston Simmons report about which the Prime Minister spoke. Yet, if the public sector is to improve its efficiency, then the system of promotion will have to enable those who are talented and have shown the right aptitude and skill to get to the top. History shows that talking across the tables often provides answers even to the thorniest of issues. It is a forward step.