The uneasy relationship between labour and employer is once again in focus in Barbados.
Truth be told, it is never really very far from the spotlight.
One would have thought, perhaps naively so, that any such relationship would be a simple one to contemplate and administer.
The employee produces an honest, productive day’s labour and the employer at the end of the day, week or month, compensates that employee fairly for his or her efforts.
But life is not that simple. All employees are neither productive nor appreciative of the fact that they are indeed, employees.
Conversely, all employers are not willing to pay that which is commensurate with employee productivity or in many cases, simply do not have the financial wherewithal to compensate adequately the employee for his or her productivity.
Where common ground can be found between the two is perhaps where the best labour/employer relationship can be found. But common ground between the two is, and will never be, static.
The trade union movement must talk productivity and must appear to have a national commitment to promoting productivity. But at the end of the equation its fight by virtue of its own creation, nature and in the interest of its continued survival, must be principally in the cause of employee — productive and the non-productive.
Barbados’ history is replete with examples of unions fighting causes where employees, having mercifully lost their jobs, had no grounds to even suggest that they be allowed to pass close to their former work sites.
Despite cries to the contrary, sloth, incompetence and indifference exist in basically every sector of the Barbadian workforce, public and private sector. Visit restaurants and bars across the island and view how some public workers can stretch two or three-hours of relaxation into a 60-minute lunch break.
Observe that burst main that remains gushing for three or four days and then watch while three out of a crew of six to ten from the Barbados Water Authority labour after normal working hours to rectify the situation.
These are but two examples of a systemic problem that exists in the island.
Has anyone ever heard the union movement defend the employers’ rights when they take action or air the dirty linen of employees in the public domain? It will scarcely happen.
Conversely, incompetent managers and executives rake in big bucks across the private and public sector — the latter in particular — when some of them would make Don Quixote of La Mancha look like Albert Einstein of the Kingdom of Wurttemberg. With nepotism, sexual acrobatics, political patronage and inadequate screening among the bases for their survival, these head honchos thrive by piggy-back riding on the competence of their administrative and departmental underlings. Do employer organisations hang these misfits out to dry? Hardly!
In the private sector action is most likely to occur when the ineffectiveness of the parties involved at both ends of the spectrum start to negatively impact the bottom line of the business. Alas, in the public sector, the cancer is so entrenched that there is a fear that corrective surgery might lead to death. After all, the union movement must do its job and the politicians have elections to win. And all this, even if the country suffers.
Of course, this is not to say that there are not excellent cogs in the workforce wheel, but place a rotten apple in a box of its wholesome kind and they will not improve their status.
In times of plenty and success those who drift are hardly noticed. But the economic crisis that continues to plague the world has made those controlling the purse strings acutely aware that the purse is getting flatter while the string is getting longer. It cannot be business as usual and they fret, justifiably so.
Only a change of culture will engender greater productivity in Barbados. Some cultures think country first, then self. The nexus between national success and self-actualisation is more apparent for those souls than Barbadian culture where we do not see past our own noses.
It is in the country’s interest and our own survival for productivity to become more than a word spoken in frustration or a mere platitude.
Will Barbadians ever understand this? The jury remains sequestered indefinitely.