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Can’t be business as usual


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It has long been acknowledged that for Barbados to continue to provide its citizens with quality social services and sustainable employment, adjustments have to be made to the way we do things.

But knowing what to do and getting it done are two separate things, as then Cabinet Minister Donville Inniss noted in December 2013.

He said: “We have been saying for too long it can’t be business as usual, but I am concerned we still [have] been behaving as though it is business as usual. I am of the view, as a minister, that we have to make some changes [in] the direction we are going. It’s no sense burying our heads in the sand . . . . [The] decisions are not tough decisions as far as I am concerned. If we have been given all the facts, all the figures, all the options, you sit down and you examine what [are] the best ones to pursue, and you pursue them.”

Like the last Government, the Mia Mottley Administration faces this dilemma in its thrust to repurpose the public sector to make it easier for citizens and foreign investors to do business here.

But there are hints of resistance to proposed changes and the pace of the changes. The first real public skirmish came this week from Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) employees.

Through their representative, the National Union of Public Workers, they said unequivocally that they will not give up their terms and conditions of service.

That is, they intend to continue working Monday to Friday and not the five of seven days Government wants. If this change can be made, the SSA would be able to schedule garbage collections on weekends without having to pay overtime. The workers, however, insist that their weekends are for family, church and social activities, and if they have to surrender that on occasion, they should be compensated.

While we respect the SSA workers’ rights to seek to maintain the status quo, and for their trade union to support them, we must say that in our estimation their action is not in the interest of Barbados.

No social service can be sustained if overtime must be factored into their weekly operating expenses – even more so now when money is limited and, in the SSA’s case, there are few trucks for them to work on.

It is ironic, too, that SSA workers are insisting on working only weekdays when a high percentage of public servants work weekends. We speak of the police, fire and ambulance services, immigration, customs, the hospital, Transport Board, and the Barbados Water Authority’s pumping stations.

Like these entities, the SSA is an essential service and its staff should be working every day of the week.

While the valuable contribution that SSA workers make to Barbados’ wellbeing and their union’s right to defend their interests cannot be questioned, we wonder if – in this time of restructuring – their resistance to change may be akin to shooting themselves in the foot. Time will tell.