Sunday, March 3, 2024

NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Labour parties vs workers


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With two labour parties alternating to form the government for over 60 years, Barbados should be a model, in terms of workers’rights, for the rest of the world to follow. 

At this juncture the opposite is true. 

Our two major parties only appear to be labour parties at election time. Thereafter they abandon workers to the whims and fancies of employers.

Even where laws exist to protect workers, they are honoured more in the breach than in the observance.  And after allowing employers to breach the laws with impunity for a while, Government would move to change the law in favour of the employer.

 As an example, shops at the back of gas stations have been operating 24 hours per day, seven days per week contrary to the Shops Act for years.  Government did not by bring the perpetrators to justice but changed the law to accommodate the practice.

For the last seven years Barbados has been enduring unprecedented harsh economic times.  Government’s response is to disproportionately place the burden on the labouring classes.  This particular labour-party administration has been responsible for placing in excess of 6 000 of its workers on the breadline since 2013.

That was bad enough, but worse is the fact that Government has been exploiting every loophole available to avoid or delay paying compension to its former employees, whom it is now treating as though they are enemies.

As an example, let’s take the case of the workers from the National Conservation Commission who were sent home in 2013. To date, some of them have not seen one cent in compensation.  A caring labour-party government would have found ways to avoid retrenching so many workers, but if it were forced, it would have sought to make the separation as painless as possible.

Government suggested, as its first ruse to delay paying compensation, that the workers should take their claims to a non-existent Employment Rights Tribunal and await the outcome of the hearings. 

It knows or ought to know that win, lose or draw at the tribunal that the workers would be entitled to a certain level of compensation having been severed.  That being the case, a caring labour-party government would have paid the basic separation package and allowed the ex-workers to pursue their claims for the excess if any.  Instead, this Government has callously withheld all payments, thereby leaving its ex-workers, its people and its supporters, to suffer unnecessarily.

When last in power between 1986 and 1994, this so-called labour party behaved in much the same way as it is doing now.  It should not have been a surprise to anyone that when confronted with a crisis that the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) would move to secure the interests of the employers over those of the workers.

In 1991 the Government hastily reduced severance payments in response to calls from employers precisely at the time when workers were being made redundant. 

These moves by the labour parties to disadvantage the working class are not new and certainly did not start with the last two DLP administrations.  In 1970 the Barrow administration abolished pensions for casual employees in the Public Service.  Five years later they took steps to eliminate Public Service pensions from the other public servants, except members of parliament, judges and the Governor General. 

So far from reading this piece, it would appear that only the DLP has not kept faith with the people they were formed to protect. The Barbados Labour Party of the 50s and 60s put in place an enviable portfolio of labour legislation.

Unfortunately, the labouring classes are not in position to make campaign contributions so their interests seem no longer to be a priority for the BLP.

Tom Adams started to disadvantage workers in preference for employers in the 1980s when he placed a cap on the amount of severance payments. Then in the 1990s the BLP campaigned on promises to reverse the measures that disadvantaged workers that the DLP imposed in 1991.  After winning the elections in 1994, the BLP reneged.

These two labour parties have been giving the impression by words that they have the interests of workers at heart but from all appearances neither of them is capable of delivering a better life for our people.

Caswell Franklyn is the general secretary of Unity Workers’ Union and a social commentator. Email


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