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EDITORIAL: Clarify storm work, please


EDITORIAL: Clarify storm work, please

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TROPICAL STORM MATTHEW has come and gone and it has left a lot more than fallen trees and utility poles and flooded streets. In fact, it would appear that the decision of a few operators to open their businesses created stronger gusts than Matthew itself.

As usual, social media users led the fight and, as has become the norm in such matters, emotion trumped reason in many comments.

We are certain that many who read the rants could not help but get the impression that anyone who opened their business committed a deadly sin – along with a capital offence for which the only sentence could be economic death.

We begin by admonishing those who feel strongly enough about any issue to post a comment to at least start with the position that it is an opinion, offered to promote discussion, as opposed to attaching the unalterably dogmatic stance that “I am right and nothing said by anyone else matters”.

For the record, we wholeheartedly support the work of the Barbados Meteorological Services and cry shame on those who seek to dismiss their expertise or predictions. By the same token we commend the work of the Department of Emergency Management and find absolutely no fault in the shutdown of the country they ordered.

But we are also sure that even these emergency planners and advisers recognise that there are some “services” being offered in the country that must go on even though they are not classified as essential or emergency. If these services are to be offered, then someone has to be at work.

In recognising that such services must continue to operate in modern-day Barbados, then those who watch from the sidelines and criticise with the most simplistic of arguments, should at least be able to consider that being at work does not automatically mean that the worker is exposed to danger from the weather system.

We agree with the Barbados Workers Union and the Attorney General that no employee should be forced to be at work during a storm, should not feel his or her job is threatened because he or she expressed opposition to being on the job, and that if there is even the slightest hint of danger in getting to or from the place of work then going to work should not be an option.

In fact, even if a worker volunteers to be at work and an employer believes getting there or being there during a storm could pose a danger to the individual that employer has a moral duty to say no, regardless of what the law may allow.

What we think is wrong, and unfair to business operators though, is the blanket condemnation that erupted on Wednesday. When, for example, St Lucy MP Denis Kellman is publicly condemned for allowing his Moon Town establishment to be opened, we believe those who criticise are not being reasonable. Some may even have exhibited a kind of middle class snobbishness that displays a genuine lack of understanding of what really goes on at the grassroots in this country.

By every measure Moon Town is a “community shop” in the heart of “the country”. Whether or not we want to admit it, there are countless Barbadians, storm or no storm, the ingredients of whose daily sustenance is garnered by the day, not because they prefer it so, but because it is what they can afford.

Poor people patronised Moon Town and several other village shops across Barbados on Wednesday because they had no other choice.

Similarly, we attribute no fault to any restaurant operator, as we witnessed, who opened to supply regular customers and visitors to the island, using family and staff volunteers, to supply the menu items. Again, we state the view that opening a business, on the face of it, cannot amount to putting those who work within harm’s way.

What we would suggest is that those in authority clarify the law once and for all, making it clear if the intent is to have absolutely no commercial activity after a shutdown has been “ordered”. Or, alternatively, under what conditions limited operations could be carried on, while ensuring workers are not subjected to harm from a storm or unscrupulous employers.