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EDITORIAL: Unions stance not the best approach


EDITORIAL: Unions stance not the best approach

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THIS WEEK the Barbados Workers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers spoke with one voice on the issue of privatisation of state enterprises. They are against it.

In fact, the NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith was very specific with her comments: “We will never agree to privatisation of the Sanitation Service Authority, and we feel the same way about the Transport Board and the Barbados Water Authority.”

This statement was made mere hours after BWU General Secretary Toni Moore offered full support to the NUPW in its fight with Government over its decision to contract out refuse collection services in St Peter, St Lucy, St John and St Philip to private sector players because of the SSA’s demonstrated inability to get the job done.

We agree with the unions that the country only arrived at this position because of the repeated and prolonged failure of the Government to provide the authority with the equipment to do the job, and that alone is justification for the unions rebelling now.

Then to compound the situation, the SSA implemented the decision without engaging the union or the workers, creating unnecessary suspicion and perhaps not benefiting from potentially valuable input from those who undertake the task every day.

So the unions had justification for being upset.

But it is our position that there is a huge difference between disagreeing with a specific decision and its implementation, and taking a philosophical position that it will “never agree to privatisation”. That’s a stance that essentially removes the pragmatism that is necessary for effective leadership in today’s dynamic environment.

The leadership of the unions is not made up of people who don’t know the country and what it faces, and they therefore ought not to approach issues with such an adamant stance. It certainly is not the same thing as saying to the Government: if your agenda includes privatisation of these agencies then bring your facts and convince us if you want our support.

This newspaper has taken a strong stance on several occasions on the way the economy is being managed by the Government because we believe significantly better can be done. But it does not change the reality that we will probably never ever again, short of discovering gold or oil in our economic space, be able to inject the tens of millions we spent annually to prop up agencies like the SSA, Transport Board and BWA.

The efficient delivery of the essential services these agencies deliver to Barbadians requires a fresh approach, and it does not appear to us to be prudent to take privatisation as an option, either in part or whole, off the table even before the discussion has started.

To be fair, we also acknowledge the revelation from the BWU boss that it has been years since they put on the table an offer to discuss a new staffing arrangement at the BWA to allow for an operating system that would significantly cut overtime paid to workers there. When offers are made to improve the efficiency of the existing system and they are not treated seriously, it is only reasonable to expect that when others such as privatisation are brought by the other side they will be treated with suspicion.

Ordinary Barbadians, those who have no choice but to take public transport, wait at the side of the road with a bucket for days for a water tanker or watch the garbage build-up outside their homes for weeks, know that “the good old days” are quickly slipping away – if they have not already passed.

Playing business as usual does them no good. In fact, it makes their lot harder. So let’s pitch the privatisation discussion at a much higher level, please.