EDITORIAL: Unions must tread very carefully
THE NEW FOUND militancy of this island’s largest public sector trade union is being paraded once again. But, at the end of its latest display of gutsiness at the Grantley Adams International Airport the question remains whether they can be any winners in this exercise.
No one should be opposed to the rights of workers withdrawing their labour, but it has to be with just cause and following trusted, time-honoured processes. This island has long understood that when there are stalemates between differing sides in labour disputes, the next step is mediation usually involving the office of the Chief Labour Officer. That step seems to have been overlooked on this occasion with the union going immediately to the next stage. That is why the protest action may be viewed with dismay by many following the dispute.
It is evident that the industrial action was timed to collide with the peak travel periods out of and into the island, something the organisers would not have overlooked. Thankfully the disruption was minimal.
In labour disputes neither reason nor good judgment are always observed by either side; but rather taking a position and standing their ground. In this dispute between the union and the management of the airport over a wage increase, both sides were clearly prepared to defend their positions. And while we may all want to join the debate and take a position, there are other issues also at play.
The comments from the General Secretary of the small Unity Trade Union, Caswell Franklyn that his organisation now represents just over 100 of the 410 GAIA employees may also highlight some of the NUPW’s challenges. Any thinking person would be therefore left to conclude the NUPW’s action is also tied up in sending a message to the workers at GAIA, both its members and non-members. The NUPW is not going to allow Unity Trade Union or any other to make inroads into its membership. It cannot afford to be dealt any such blow, which has implications for its prestige and its finances. Yes, there may be more to all this than meets the naked eye.
After a period of public outcry about the unions appearing to be sleeping pussycats, they will want to remain relevant and appear publicly to be so, which underscores the tough talk from the leaders when making their demands. But, there is a level of responsibility which comes with leading these organisations. Not only must demands for wage increases be fair and reasonable, but also within the context of the bigger picture. For Barbados, the economy remains under siege while productivity needs to be enhanced.
The NUPW must be very careful that it does not come across.