Friday, April 12, 2024

What apology what!


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The company [BAMC] had made clear that it would not want to go into the future with a new plant at the new Andrews [factory] with persons who could not give somewhere between ten and 15 years. – Sir Roy Trotman, general secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, April 16.
INITIALLY, IT PUZZLED ME that the parties on either side of the 2014 sugar industry strike could be so adamant over something as silly as an “apology” that they would threaten to jeopardise the entire crop to vindicate their respective positions.
Then, I came across the kernel at the top of this piece from Sir Roy that struck me as being much closer to the real issue that put a halt to a harvest which neither the workers, owners nor the island can afford. But it holds enormous implications for the future of factory workers generally and the profitability of a key company in an industry whose returns have been steadily diminishing over the years.
The labour leader was insistent that the state-run Barbados Agricultural Management Company (BAMC), which is responsible for the factory, apologise for the manner in which it laid off the 57 workers, whose future and well-being were being so carefully secured by the Barbados Workers Union in negotiations until the sudden terminations that sparked the industrial action.
In all of the furore, the BAMC was strangely, if understandably, silent on the apology call.
It was as if the company’s principals were unaware of the basis upon which the call was made and therefore in all innocence proceeded to ignore that issue, while focusing on what to me were the peripherals – its duties and responsibilities under the law which it had already fulfilled.
In the meantime, while the Minister of Labour Senator Dr Esther Byer Suckoo was chairing interminable meetings and smiling prettily for the cameras, the rest of the Government, too, was silent. That is, except for the highly excitable and voluble Minister of Agriculture Dr David Estwick, who argued that an “apology” was not a basis upon which an entire sector could be held to ransom.
“My personal view is that it would be a travesty to have started a crop that has the potential to earn foreign exchange when we have a foreign exchange crisis going on, and someone is going to tell me, they want an apology,” Estwick told the media. “An apology can be a basis?”
Still, the strike once again highlighted the failure of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to give leadership to an issue of national importance, and in this case, a matter involving a state entity in a sector of critical importance in generating foreign exchange.
It is not that the Prime Minister is unaware of sugar’s role in this country’s fortunes – past, present and future – because only this past Wednesday he was extolling its virtues and placement at the centre of the agricultural sector during his address to a Barbados Agricultural Society (BAS) seminar on Agriculture: A Vision For The Future.
“My vision for agriculture in Barbados is one of positive, effective, and enduring change to the sector distinguished by creativity in its outlook, cost effectiveness in its production methods, and consistency in its practice. It is our attitude to change that will make the difference,” the Prime Minister said.
“We need to start the change in agriculture with haste.”
He told the agriculturalists that in order to achieve that vision a two-pronged strategic plan had been drawn up which included reform of the sugar industry by creating a new sugar cane industry producing sugar for local consumption, energy in the form of ethanol fuel and molasses for rum production.
It was not a new or original “vision” by any means as we have heard it all before under different dispensations, but what was important was that it was given “flesh” by the weight of this Prime Minister’s office and imprimatur.
Sir Roy’s concerns became even clearer and placed the proposed new factory at the centre of the dispute.
Since mid-year 2013, it was announced that construction of a new $500 million Japanese-financed multipurpose sugar factory would begin by the end of this year to replace Andrews and was expected to be ready by 2016.
There was an understanding, according to Sir Roy, “regarding how we would proceed along the lines of the layoffs, along the lines of early retirement for persons who were more than 62 years old”.
BAMC is projecting that its new state-of-the-art factory, with many of its processes either fully or partially automated, will employ 350 people both permanent and seasonal.
Clearly, those over 62 who can’t give between ten and 15 more years to the company can have no place at this new table and BAMC has obviously taken this opportunity to begin “right-sizing” its workforce. 
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent. Email: albertbrandford


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