In an educated and progressive Barbados, it is yet unbelievable that there are still those around who continue to question the role and purpose of trade unions.
For the benefit of all it is to be repeated that the trade union is about providing representation for workers, and for defending the rights of working class people. It does not discriminate in being the voice and/or advocate of the people. It embarks on a mission of championing their cause, as it relates to their social, economic and political well being.
In the overall scheme of things, it can be argued that the trade union plays a decisive role in defending the cause of the most vulnerable. The things that some employers attempt to do to individuals who are minimum wage earners, and so find themselves at the bottom of the social ladder is disgraceful, outrageous, unbecoming and exploitative.
It is not a case that these employers are ignorant of what they are doing. It would seem that they are intent on maximising their profits, and do so at the expense of those who are in no position to question, argue, quarrel or fight; simply because remaining a job means the world to them. Survival is what matters. Hence the stage is set for the exploitation of the vulnerable worker.
The charge has been repeatedly made by workers that their employer has dissuaded them from joining a trade union. Some have been threatened with dismissal, while others have been told that they would be laid off. The message however conveyed is abundantly clear. Those who find themselves in this position are the ones who definitely require protection under the law.
Employers who engage in acts of injustice would shield themselves by using the route of layoffs, often citing a decline in business and higher operational costs as reasons for their actions. This is not easy to disprove. The big corporate giants in the small Barbadian community have used this weapon to their advantage, so it is difficult not to expect that small and medium size enterprises would not use a similar tactic.
The worrying thing about this is that it tends to depress salary and wages. It is an ingredient that helps to swell the unemployment numbers and creates a higher level of social dislocation. What does all this have to do with the role of trade unions? It is a starting point for the undermining of the role of trade unions. Employers are well aware that the trade union strength lies in its numbers, and so to weaken its base, is to severely limit its effectiveness.
The constitution as the highest law of the land, gives the right of freedom of association. It begs the question, why is it that individual as employees could be denied this fundamental right by any employer?
The argument may be advanced that the employer has the right to set the terms of engagement under the recruitment policy. That being the case: Is it permissible that any aspect of the policy should run contrary to the law of the land?
The answers to these questions may be beyond the layman and best rest in the domain of the legal luminaries. I guess that these learnt individuals will all have diverse legal opinions. Be that as it may, it is very unlikely that any of them can deny an injustice is being imposed upon those workers, who are denied their constitutional right to join a trade union.
The question remains: How can this matter be addressed, so that the injustice which some workers suffer, and the level of workers exploitation which they endure, should be arrested in the national interest?
* Dennis de Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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