Trade unions in Barbados are too closely affiliated to the two established political parties.
The charge today from outspoken leader of the Unity Workers Union (UWU), trade unionist Caswell Franklyn, who has distanced his organisation from the other bargaining bodies for Barbadian workers, which he has accused of seriously reneging on their duty to represent workers.
“They are supposed to be representing the workers and they are not doing it,” he complained in an interview with Barbados TODAY.
Franklyn, whose union was founded in 2010 in response to pleas from workers at the Grantley Adams International Airport, said the problem today was one of “perks”. He argued strongly that “if you want to get promoted in the Public Service, get in the unions and start engaging in a little militantcy and you will benefit from a promotion”.
The veteran trade unionist went on to single out one particular union which he said “provides the best example of self-projection”.
“Can you show me a person who has been appointed recently [to that union] who is not a member of the Democratic Labour Party?
“. . . I even wrote to the Chief Personnel Officer pointing out this is the case,” he said while insisting that political affiliation was definitely a factor in these appointments.
Franklyn also strongly criticised the Social Partnership arrangement between the unions, the Government and the employers, saying it was a “nonsense”.
“The unions should have been more militant since 1991, but this Social Partnership nonsense was seen as a way to control the unions and it has done exactly that.
“It has made the unions soft. It has emasculated them,” he said, while noting that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, when he was in Opposition, had lambasted the Social Partnership and dismissed it as a “philosophical absurdity” beacause he did not see any good in it.
“Now he is praising it up because he is now seeing how he can use it,” he added.
Franklyn has also distanced himself and his union from the current response by the trade union movement to the ongoing restructuring in the Public Service.
In fact, he said their actions in many instances were simply a case of “shadow boxing” that will amount to nothing.
“Nothing is going to happen. The problem of having the two seat majority [in Government] is something that is forcing the Prime Minister to behave in this manner. He cannot offend anyone. He cannot rock the boat so any minister can behave as he likes. The Prime Minister cannot enforce any discipline because he does not have the power. What the Prime Minister has to say is: This is out of hand and I need to get a new mandate. It is an embarassment. People in the region are now laughing at Barbados,” he said.
Franklyn, who was once employed at the National Union of Public Workers as an industrial relations officer, cited sections of the Employment Rights Act which showed that neither the Minister of Labour nor the Prime Minister had any role to play in the conciliation process.
He pointed out that if no agreement was reached at the level of the Chief Labour Officer, the matter should be sent on to the Employment Rights Tribunal for resolution.
Asked what was the role of the UWU in this current environment, Franklyn said: “I would like to clean it up because the people who do not have the political connections, family connections or the Masonic Lodge connections are the ones who are suffering.
“You have some good workers who then get ostracised and then they become lethargic. I know of one case where an officer beat another officer at work. The officer was injured and was on sick leave for months.
“The aggressor said, ‘Do not pay him any attention, the Lodge will protect me’ . . . they refused to bring charges against the officer and he is still working to this day.”