The story is occasionally told of the sage who sees two quarrelling old women leaning out of their windows across the narrow divide of their home alley and striking at each other with sticks. And, the wise man observes to a friend: “Those two women will never agree because they are arguing from different premises.”
We will be presumptuous enough as to proffer that Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and Minister of Education Dr David Estwick (former Minister of Economic Affairs) too “will never agree”, given that their economic remedies for the financial ills of Barbados are written in different words, with the help of very different people, from very “different premises”. And though the sticks, for the moment, are drawn, never the twain shall be reconciled on the adopted way forward for Barbados, or on the legacy they would each leave behind.
We may even draw a parallel with the Opposition Barbados Labour Party. Opposition Leader Mia Mottley and former Opposition Leader and Prime Minister Owen Arthur, we are pretty sure now, “will never agree”. There is little doubt that their individual observations and visions of the road to Barbados’ recovery are at variance, and their responses to the Government’s challenges and reactions are firmly planted on “different premises”.
That is why we take with a pinch of salt the orchestrated toeing of the Democratic Labour Party line by Dr Estwick as we do the much touted reconciliation of Mr Arthur and Ms Mottley, manifested in both cases in this seeming peace that oxymoronically passeth all understanding. In each case there appears to be the intended hug that never becomes a warm embrace.
The possible unified communities of the Governmental Democratic Labour Party and the Opposition Barbados Labour Party separately may yet have been choked off by the falling chips from the lashing sticks.
The foregoing imageries came rushing back to mind this week when the sticks came out the windows again –– not really from unlikely “premises”. To tell the truth, in the period leading up to Government’s mandatory retrenchment of public sector workers, the Freundel Stuart administration’s consultations with the trade unions seemed to have been rooted in a mature and practical relationship going forward, as the popular term goes.
This week we were left to draw the conclusion that not only did the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) exhibit much maturity and reasonableness, but more proportionately greater patience and an overabundance of tolerance.
It all came to light when upset NUPW general secretary Dennis Clarke on Tuesday told Barbados TODAY that the staff in the Land Tax Division in the Warrens Towers No. 2, were “wrongly” instructed to get out of the building that morning, 24 hours after being asked to hand over their access cards, as the Freundel Stuart team moved to merge its revenue collection agencies into one revenue authority.
According to Mr Clarke, no one in the new entity had the authority to instruct those public officers to leave.
“The issue is how these workers were treated,” the union head said. “They did not commit a crime; you gave them an option, and they made a choice. And what one thought would have happened is, as agreed to with the Civil Service and the minister, that they would have remained on the job until the Public Service Commission is ready to place them, or even put them on special leave. That did not occur today.
“You would have had those Land Tax workers who work in the Warrens area . . . in Warrens Towers 2. Yesterday evening they were asked to submit their access cards, and this morning they were told they can’t remain in the building, and they sent them to another building that houses the Financial Services Commission,” the veteran trade unionist said.
Who indeed gave the instructions? And the Government remains dumb on it.
Mr Clarke sought to explain: “These problems occur, when you have people . . . hard ears people, who wouldn’t listen; because I have said you needed two more weeks to work out the problems [with transition to the new Revenue Authority], and look at what would eventually develop!
“They [Government authorities] did not accede to the request; so they have everybody running around now like peacocks with their heads cut off; and this is most unfortunate.”
Some observers say it was bound to happen: the Government’s taking advantage of a less militant union, an accommodating union. Well, did it? And for its hard ears-ness will we see striking sticks from opposite windows any time soon?
After all, the unions and Government are arguing from very “different premises”!