Tuesday, April 16, 2024

EDITORIAL: Labour pains are growing


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IN A RELATIVELY SHORT period the industrial relations climate in Barbados has moved from cool to warm­ – and is now threatening to shift to hot.

In circumstances where the country is starting to see the first signs of ease from the grip of a recession that has been strangling life out of the economy for too many years, this rise on the industrial affairs thermometer can’t be ignored.

In recent weeks the headlines have been dominated by developments in the dispute involving the proposed transfer of workers from the Customs and Excise Department to the still new Barbados Revenue Authority.

Interestingly, this has taken on greater significance because it has engaged the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the relatively new, but apparently energetic beyond what its size would suggest, Unity Workers Union (UWU).

There is also the still to be settled dispute between private waste haulers and the Ministry of the Environment over the introduction of a tipping fee for the delivery of waste to Sustainable Barbados Recycling Centre (SBRC), which to all intents and purposes is a monopoly.

Add to that the dispute between the BWU and Barbados Light & Power Company over the latter’s decision to implement a major staff-trimming exercise that has put the company on the brink of a strike, as well as the threat by disgruntled medical and non-medical staff at the Psychiatric Hospital to go on strike anytime now — without further notice.

In addition to all this, the BWU is preparing to start negotiations in earnest for a new collective agreement for hotel workers across the sector, but against the backdrop of stated dissatisfaction with a major player, Sandy Lane Hotel, which the union has warned could precipitate industrial action industry wide.

It is also no secret that the BWU has a major dispute with one of the largest security companies in the island, G4S, which, based on the warning of the union, could also result in industrial action.

And as if that’s not enough, all the unions are set to start talks with Government for a new agreement on behalf of thousands of public servants in an environment where many public officers believe they have held strain too long. Already Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has cautioned that there is likely to be a disparity between what workers want or deserve and what the country can afford.

Against all this we caution that if there is not a sense of reasonableness on all sides at this time all our efforts at recovery could be set back considerably. The country cannot afford any disruption now. What it needs is greater productivity. However, employers, both public and private, can’t be allowed to use this scenario as an excuse to exploit or disadvantage workers, who have certainly been asked to hold more than their fair share of strain for well over half a decade.

Both sides have to be prepared to compromise if we are to grow. Where employers can’t afford to offer money they have to be prepared to offer alternatives that present some value to their employees.

What’s absolutely certain is that at this juncture workers across the country are in a heightened state of agitation and unless those who employ them and those who represent them are prepared to act maturely, they may find themselves going in one direction and their constituents in another.

There has to be a lesson for employers, their representatives and the bosses of the BWU and NUPW in the apparent growing attractiveness of the UWU to workers. It’s time for us all to sit up and take note.


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