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EDITORIAL: Economic growth vital for labour


EDITORIAL: Economic growth vital for labour

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TODAY, LABOUR DAY, is a time to celebrate the working men and women of this country and laud their outstanding contributions to nation-building.

It’s a time to reflect on the many sacrifices made by those before us who toiled to improve this country of which we are so proud. It is a day of sober reflection for agricultural workers, those on the docks and those within the transportation service. It must also be a period of reflection for those serving to protect and secure, to safeguard our health, prepare a workforce that is trained and competent, and in all other ways to ensure that this society continues to function to the benefit of all.

The labour movement has been in the vanguard pushing for much of what we now take for granted. Thankfully, such benefits were not sought exclusively for members of labour organisations, but the entire society – be it legislation relating to holidays with pay or for maternity leave.

We appreciate that workers’ organisations are under pressure – from members who are forever demanding more, as well as critics who point quickly to any shortcomings. But in an imperfect world, there is still need for a strong labour movement to protect and promote workers’ rights. The unions play a critical role in promoting real wage growth in this country and in defending the voiceless and underprivileged.

Yet, despite that outstanding contribution of workers and their associations, Barbados is still a state of contrasts long after the watershed period of 1937. We can look around to the many negatives, from the need to improve productivity to the troublesome signs of increasing homelessness, to depressed wages and a stagnant economy. Wages for Barbadians in the middle and working classes have flatlined, while the clout the unions once had has dwindled.

All this speaks to the need for economic growth because it is only then that we can create meaningful and sustainable jobs, particularly in the private sector, which in turn will result in increased membership and dues for the unions.

Today’s activities at Bay Street should be short on the old-style rhetoric and focus on ways to enhance productivity, promote a more flexible workforce and earn more foreign exchange. Private sector job creation must be seen as a priority.

The road to economic recovery for Barbados will not be easy. But with the support of all the unions, it could be made easier.