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May Day Message: Reflect on seismic changes


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May Day Message: Reflect on seismic changes

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by Edwin O’Neal

President, Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB)

In 2019, the local labour movement joined the world in celebrating the centennial year of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). At that time, no one would have remotely entertained the idea that in less than 12 months, the world would be firmly gripped by a pandemic which threatens to wipe out societies and alter the structure of civilisation as we know it.

Despite the fact that the pandemic threatens to bring the world to its knees, there are those who have resorted to the use of the public airwaves to advance their narrow sectoral interest and pose as serious commentators on the way forward as though they have the panacea for society.

On this, the commemoration of the Workers’ Day, I wish to advance a few comments and observations. The United Nations has designated the year 2020 as the year of the Nurse and the Midwife. It was as if the United Nations was being prescient.

In the midst of the pandemic, nurses are in the forefront of the fight, along with their other frontline colleagues, as they meet the challenges head on. It is ironic that over the years, nurses and policemen have consistently argued that they represent special characteristics of the economy and, as such, they should be treated specially.

The Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) supports the legitimate aspirations of our member units for the benefit of their respective members. It would be remiss of us as a people at this time, if we did not salute our frontline workers (nurses, policemen, members of the medical fraternity and their associates), for the heroic job and the selfless contributions to the efforts of managing the state of the health emergency and the attendant restrictions.

As adverted to earlier, May Day Celebrations cannot have the celebratory impact as though these were normal times. Instead, I invite every citizen (workers) to look inward with a view to doing some introspection. Let us think of the disadvantaged, the poor, homeless, unemployed and all of those less fortunate.

There is no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic poses a major threat to the world’s economy and our very existence as a civilisation. Some will ask what can we do and where will it end? We can only speculate but, in the interim, we are called upon to pause and reflect.

When the Barbados labour movement was formalised nearly 90 years ago, there was also a level of uncertainty. As with any major movement, there were those who questioned its sustainability and viability. Eighty-seven years later, organised labour is still in our midst and the voice of labour resonates throughout society.

With labour as a derivative of Civil Society, now being part of the social partnership, it encourages other civil society groups to join with us in fighting and holding back the worst ravages of the pandemic.

There are workers in our midst who have been hit with double and triple whammy. They have lost their jobs in the restructuring exercise, some have lost their livelihoods as tourism has collapsed around us, while some have lost loved ones to the dreaded disease. Let us on this May Day, celebrate labour by extending hope and assistance to our more unfortunate members.

CTUSAB has called on our member units to support the Adopt-A-Family Programme, and help to ease the pain that some members of labour are experiencing. The labour movement does not have access to large amounts of money but it is incumbent on us to support this initiative and give to this noble cause, even to the extent of the widow’s mite.

Apart from being the Christian thing to do, we would also want to demonstrate in a symbolic way that we empathise with the suffering of our fellow man.

Because of the adjustments that have come about as a response to COVID-19, it is expected that the workplace will not be the same on this Labour Day. I invite us all to think, reflect and ponder on the seismic changes that are about to become the new norm.

As for example, what will the new school look like? Is society prepared to invest more in teacher training to ensure that they are equipped to do “virtual” teaching? Is society able to invest more in the acquisition of the necessary hardware and software to make sure that the “new” school is functional and relevant?

Is society prepared to invest in actions that will ensure that every house has access to electricity and WIFI connectivity so that every child can be taught “virtually”? What impact will such a development have on the socialisation of our youth on the school plant, on the makeup of school sporting teams, traffic on the roads, or the effect of exhaust fumes on our environment?

The larger question is, what will the workplace look like as we emerge from the experiment of working from at home? Will the necessary safeguards be put in place to ensure the absence of harassment and exploitation, and what thoughts will be given to the issue of health and safety?

All of these scenarios serve to make us aware of what potentially exists in the “best of times and the worst of times”. I need to remind the public that the Congress continues to work towards solutions for the benefit of our country and the sustainability of our society of Barbados. It is against this backdrop, that the Congress wrote the Chairman of the Social Partnership to request the convening of a meeting, with a view to discussing in a very practical way the reopening of the Barbadian society and economy.

As we look to the future, the indicators point to the fact that the way ahead will be painful and difficult for Labour. The Congress pledges to continue to articulate and press the demands on behalf of the Barbadian workers, for the best possible eventualities on the basis of available information.

Let us on Labour Day 2020; remain optimistic of the future, despite the challenges of the time. Stay safe, and God Bless.

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