AS BARBADIANS REFLECT TODAY, May Day, on the valued contributions of the labour movement, there is reason to be satisfied with the achievements. But, this is not an occasion for fun and frolic, given the severe challenges the country faces.
The traditional fiery speeches denouncing the business class will no longer cut it. We have passed that stage of vitriolic rhetoric. Rather, the times call for a united stand to turn around our fortunes.
The May Day celebrations should truly reflect the involvement of all organised labour groups, preferably under the umbrella of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB). They should all be part of today’s show of solidarity, whether in the parade or the platform speeches.
But the trade union movement is fractured, with the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), the island’s largest trade union, outside of this formal arrangement. This does not speak well for organised labour. Any rift between the BWU and the other unions and staff associations needs to be urgently mended, given the many national issues which need a united labour input.
The Social Partnership, with labour a key associate, has been touted as an efficacious forum for promoting national dialogue and finding solutions. The process, if followed, can allow the tripartite grouping to resolve a range of issues which need not become full-blown national problems. But the public has a right to know more about the inner workings of the Social Partnership and outcomes of its meetings, since its deliberations concern them. Too little is heard about it.
As this country fights its way out of a prolonged and crippling economic crisis, one of the necessary requirements is for Barbadians to adopt better work attitudes. The research results have shown that enhancing productivity and being more efficient will be a prerequisite if we are to grow.
This gives the trade union movement an opportunity to not only promote the need for quality output and to safeguard employment, but to ensure the creation of better paying jobs in a stable environment. The unions should no longer see themselves as just agitators on behalf of workers.
They must help push to make public sector reform become a reality and ensure workers adapt to a 24-hour work day, and that state businesses stop draining the national purse. Labour must emphasise a culture of customer service excellence while making it clear that this is not servitude.
All unions should demand constant training and retooling for their members, while pushing for a world class education system to ensure we remain relevant in an ever-changing world. They must fight environmental degradation; denounce indiscipline, bad behaviour, dishonesty and greed, and promote wellness and healthy lifestyles. Labour’s unambiguous message must be that Barbados is a safe, stable and welcoming place to do business and live.
The May Day message must be relevant and resonate with all Barbadians.