In April 2015, I wrote an article captioned “A new agenda for Barbadian workers and their families”. In that article, I made an attempt to highlight the existence of a struggle between two opposing forces – Barbadian workers and their families versus the political class.
Writing from Chicago at the time, I tried to capture as much of the perceived negative features and weaknesses of the political class as I could. I then tried to show how these perceived shortcomings of the political class were negatively affecting the economy, and ultimately making life somewhat difficult and challenging for Barbadian workers and their families.
To be thorough, I also highlighted the perceived weaknesses of two very important decision-makers and members of the political class – the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.
Having laid out a historical case against the political class, and having highlighted the fact that some members of this class were extremely vulnerable until February 2016, I dared the unions to start fighting on behalf of all Barbadian workers and their families, and to exploit the temporary vulnerability of the political class. The next strike called, I challenged them, should be a strike on behalf of all Barbadian workers and their families.
Clearly, in April 2015, the cards were heavily stacked in the unions’ favour. Back then, one would have been heavily inclined to support any widespread industrial action brought by the unions aimed at benefiting Barbadian workers and their families.
Nineteen months later, in November 2016, Barbadians can now see the extent to which my article has exposed the unions for their ineffective and, sometimes, pretentious defense of the interests of Barbadian workers and their families.
Since April 2015, at least three special groups of Barbadian public sector workers needing effective union representation have attracted national attention:
1. Some workers 60 years and older being forced into retirement.
2. Persons working in temporary positions for 3 years or more remaining un-appointed.
3. NCC workers being retrenched.
In November 2016, all fair-minded Barbadians can now hold these truths to be self-evident:
1. As a result of the industrial relations process related to the above-mentioned Barbadian workers and their families, the unions emerged weaker and the government emerged stronger.
2. The temporary period of vulnerability for some members of the political class ended in February 2016. Having secured their pensions, these members now feel less personally threatened by union actions, strategies and tactics.
3. No meaningful, sustained, pressurizing industrial action was taken on behalf of Barbadian workers and their families prior to February 2016, or since.
Now that February 2016 has passed, and now that some members of the political class can no longer suffer personal anguish and pain as a result of being rendered ineligible for state pensions, Barbadian workers, their family, and their country must now become sacrificial lambs in order to achieve a short-sighted, individualistic, and perplexing union objective.
Barbadians (local and foreign), their families, and tourists must now suffer from anger, frustration, and fatigue as they try to pass through, or do business at our two ports of entry. The memory of our nation’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations must now become marred and tainted, and our local tourism industry must now face a risk of reduced revenue, all because of industrial action started by “irresponsible and reckless” unions.
Mind you, whereas the unions could not find it possible to bring pressure to bear on the political class on behalf of all Barbadian workers and their families, they now find it very possible to speedily commence industrial action on behalf of one man. “Hurting many, for the benefit of one” seems to be the new slogan and mantra being adopted by the unions.
By the way, hasn’t a precedent been already set and accepted by the unions for the manner in which the Akanni McDowell case should be handled? Shouldn’t the Personnel Administration Department (PAD) and the NUPW repeatedly meet, if necessary, to negotiate a settlement? If the differences between the goals of the two contending groups prove to be intractable, and all efforts at achieving a settlement fail, shouldn’t the case go to the Employment Rights Tribunal (ERT) which should act as final arbiter? In other words, why should Mr. McDowell be treated differently from the NCC workers?
It is highly likely that the current industrial action and its attendant politics, being pursued on behalf of Mr. McDowell by the unions and the opposition, do not have the support of the majority of Barbadian workers and their families. Consequently, one is now heavily inclined to side with the political class and castigate the unions for attempting to damage the fragile economy of Barbados at a critical time because of narrow, political, singular and individualistic motives.
With respect to effective representation of the rights and benefits of Barbadian workers and their families, the reputation of the unions has wobbled noticeably since April 2015.
The act of effectively representing the interests of many workers and their families, when confronted by the opposing entrenched interests of the powerful few, must be seen as the raison d’être of all unions worldwide. Rather than assume a hostile, confrontational stance against the government and attempt to wreak havoc on a weakened Barbadian economy for one man only, the unions ought to ascertain if there are any major problems that Barbadian workers are beginning to encounter as a result of increasing private sector greed and contempt for our labour regulations in these difficult economic times.
To gain some insights into the new anti-worker practices being embraced and developed by some Barbadian employers, the unions should begin having collaborative discussions with the Ministry of Labour.