We have given them the opportunity to go through apprenticeship, to improve their position in life.
–– Apes Hill developer Sir Charles Williams.
To say that tensions at the plush Apes Hill golf resort have now reached boiling point is quite the understatement.
We were at first surprised by the tone of a letter issued by the Barbados Workers’ Union on Tuesday in which it charged that there were racial undertones to what had initially seemed to be just another workers’ protest.
Even more surprising though was the response given to Barbados TODAY by Apes Hill developer Sir Charles Williams, which we published last night.
Sir Charles, who is no stranger to the media and must be credited, along with his brother Bizzy, for his yeoman service to Barbados, in terms of leading the development of this island’s physical infrastructure and guiding it away from a monocrop, sugar plantation-driven economy, has always been known for speaking his mind, and in a way that could make some people feel more than a bit uncomfortable.
But in his interview yesterday with our Senior Reporter Emmanuel Joseph, Sir Charles was spitting fire to the point where he was bordering on, if not stepping over the line of being totally offensive.
“Leh me tell you something. I ready to shut it down and send home all 400 people that working up there. Ready! It is a pain on me. It is a pain,” an emotional Sir Charles said, breaking his silence on the industrial dispute.
“Today is six years Apes Hill open. I should never have done it. I should have left it in a dairy farm employing eight people . . . ; that’s what I should have done.
I would not have this worry this morning,” he lamented.
Sir Charles said the workers had done so well, the company had built an additional car park for those who had gone to work there.
“We have promoted people from labourers to supervisors in our business. You work, you prove yourself, and you get promoted. Leh me tell you something: when they came to work, they barely had clothes . . . ,” emphasized the real estate mogul.
We understand Sir Charles’ anger as a businessman who has invested tonnes of money in a venture and therefore wants to see it succeed. We also understand that as an employer it would irk him to see workers loafing around daily, especially with the local job market as it is right now.
But there our understanding ends.
As a respected and leading member of our business community, Sir Charles caught us off guard by both the tone and tenor of his comments –– which clearly suggest the wounds at Apes Hill are more than skin-deep –– even though the mogul has made a point of saying all are welcome at Apes Hill.
Indeed, we suspect this matter, which is now before the Labour Department, is much bigger than the goodly Dr Esther Byer and her team. Even Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, if he is asked and chooses to answer, may find it exceedingly difficult to resolve what is clearly a pre-Independence mindset.
For as far as we have come as a country, on the cusp of celebrating 50 years of nationhood, it is obvious we still have a long way to go in terms of resolving a number of deep-seated issues to do with our colonial history.
We believe the latest Apes Hill flair-up is an important teaching moment for the entire country.
Quite often, as we move around our generally stable society, it is easy to forget the prejudice that underpins our existence, until we make the mistake of offending a particular class of people. That is when the true weight of the society has been known to come down, and come down forcefully –– never mind all the talk of everyone being equal in God’s sight.
How else could anyone seek to defend putting the concerns of “high net worth” individuals above those of their very employees, who, next to blood relatives, are the closest we all have to family.
It is one of the biggest hypocrisies of Barbadian life, which urgently needs to be corrected. But this will require the will of powerful individuals such as Sir Charles to not only talk reconciliation but to practise it. It matters not today who brought whom out of slavery or for that matter who is responsible for putting the clothes on another’s back, but our sincerity as true craftsmen of our nation’s fate.
We wish to suggest that 50 years after this island made its initial boast of achieving political Independence, there can be no better time than now than to seek to fix this situation before Sir Charles is forced to make good on his threat to shut down Apes Hill for good.