EDITORIAL: It’s time to hear from the ‘elders’
WHATEVER THEY MAY HAVE morphed into today, there can be no doubt that two institutions of “recent” vintage – the Barbados Social Partnership and the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) – have served the country well for a considerable period of their existence.
They were born in tough times and raised as the country went through transition. Today, however, their efficacy and status are increasingly coming under question, and perhaps with some justification.
Given the charged nature of industrial relations in Barbados at this time, in particular involving public sector workers and the unions that represent them, it may be time to look at reconstituting both organisations in the interest of the country.
As it now stands, a number of comments over the course of the last week, resulting from disputes involving the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) in the first instance and the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) to a lesser extent, have only served to heighten the tension.
We closed last week with a threat of industrial action by the BWU because of the failure of the Government to at least respond to its correspondence, as well as the initiation of action in two separate disputes by the NUPW involving employees of the Customs and Excise Department, Immigration Department and Grantley Adams International Airport Inc.
And in the face of this, the country heard a not so veiled threat from Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to “change the rules” (our words) because his conclusion is that the NUPW is not following established conventions. He believes the NUPW’s way of doing business is “irregular”.
“I have thought it quite irregular that while discussions are going on and clarifications are being sought, that industrial action should be instituted. . . .
“I say I think it is very irregular because that is not the way we have done things in Barbados over the years,” Stuart said.
Labelling the NUPW’s approach as tantamount to blackmail, the Prime Minister added: “I suppose the institution of industrial action is supposed to be a subtle, or sometimes not too subtle, form of blackmail of the employer; be that employer the Government or an employer in the private sector. That is not the way we have traditionally done business.”
And while the Prime Minister’s comments were supposedly directed at the leadership of the NUPW, the comments of BWU general secretary Toni Moore indicate clearly that her organisation also took offence. We are willing to hazard a guess that the leadership of the Barbados Union of Teachers, Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and Unity Workers’ Union also had serious concerns with the Prime Minister’s words.
So we return to the matter of the Social Partnership and CTUSAB. If these two organisations were perceived today as being as strong and non-aligned as they were viewed in their heyday, it might be possible for their decisive intervention as voices of reason and sobriety. That is unlikely to be the case at this time and we therefore urge all relevant parties to do what is necessary to reconstitute these two key bodies.
What Barbados needs right now is strong leadership – and this is not a reference to partisan political kind. It is time for the so-called captains of industry, the political elders, the statesmen in our midst to be seen and heard.
The current charged environment cannot be left unchecked to develop into a firestorm of industrial action as it is shaping up to be right now.