Wednesday, April 24, 2024

EDITORIAL: What was root of sugar strike?


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It goes without saying: Sir Roy Trotman’s contribution to the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), the local labour movement and the general development of the Barbadian society is unquestionable.
There is also no doubt that the changing face of the world economy, and its influence of what takes place each day in our neck of the woods, has contributed to a major shift in the role and influence of trade unions.
But that is not to suggest they are no longer needed or relevant. It is still very true that there is strength in solidarity and that the world is still populated by more than its fair share of unscrupulous employers – enough to keep unions relevant and busy.
Platitudes aside, however, we have to accept that for all its history and experience, the union cannot always be right, even after it has done its due diligence before taking a stance on any industrial relations matter. It’s just a fact of being human, supported by the law of large numbers.
It is with this in mind that we believe it is in the best interest of the country and the future of industrial relations that the BWU, Barbados Agricultural Management Company and the Minister of Labour/Chief Labour Officer address the country fully on the just ended strike at Portvale Sugar Factory.
There are just too many unanswered questions, and while some of the key players in the dispute might suggest they have spoken, we believe that like us, most Barbadians still don’t understand what really caused the strike. Put another way, we believe too many Barbadians are not sure that the action was justified, at least not based on the case put by the BWU.
We pause here to reiterate that we are not suggesting the strike was not justified, only that the case put was weak enough to raise questions about the soundness of the union’s judgment, particularly in a matter that held such grave implications for the national economy, the sugar industry and hundreds of individual Barbadians. It cannot be enough to say it was about the 60-odd workers involved or even those who had already been severed long before the strike commenced.
The call for an enhanced separation package from a broke industry and company rang hollow – at least as presented by the union.
The call for an apology from the employer, a demand that was apparently not one of the initially stated reasons for the strike, also rang hollow.
That the workers are back on the job with the issue of separation packages still to be settled and the union happy with what can at best be described as an implied apology, also leaves us to ask again: what really was the strike about?
A genuine and thorough explanation just might settle the issue for us all.


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