As the Opposition staged its “white march”, Barbados TODAY sat with president of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), Dennis De Peiza, to get the organization’s position on the Municipal Solid Waste Tax, and how the union intends to treat to the matter.
He also responded to criticisms about the unions’ handling of the retrenchment of over 3,000 public workers and shared his views on strained relations with the Barbados Workers’ Union.
You’re with us on a day when the Opposition Barbados Labour Party is staging a white march. What’s your impression of the event?
De Peiza: The Congress of Trade Unions understands the situation that faces the country at this point in terms of the public [being] very sensitive about the tax measures that have been introduced. Certainly, from the perspective of labour, there have been a number of taxes imposed on the society over time, and in addition to that there have been no increase in salaries for public officers, in particular; and one understands how this impacts.
And when we speak to the level of retrenchment in the Public Service and statutory boards that we have seen in recent times, this of course raises a serious level of concern. I believe each organization, whether it be political party or otherwise, has its own agenda and determines how it wants to make its process felt in this regard. What the labour movement will say at this point is that we believe that matters such as this one should be a matter of consultation at the level of the Social Partnership.
We ourselves have a perspective and would be able to provide some type of guidance in terms of what is the final determination that is to be made, because at the end of the day we also represent a large [number] of constituents, and I would suggest to you we represent the masses in terms of our society. So this is really a shortcoming that has emerged in this instance and I don’t think it is too late to get back to the basics. In other words, have that consultation and dialogue with the labour movement and the other stakeholders –– which would be, of course, the Barbados Private Sector Association . . . .
When you say consultation here, do you mean consultation with the Government or consultation with the Opposition that is staging the march?
De Peiza: I am going to put it in another context. We embrace the Social Partnership model and I believe that where something like this is going to happen, we could sit down with the Social Partners to speak to something that is fundamental in terms of how it impacts the lives of people. If you went back to the water rates when they were being changed some years ago under the Barbados Labour Party, I recall that we had a meeting at Grand Barbados, chaired by then Prime Minister Owen Arthur to discuss the issue of the water rates and the proposed changes that were to be implemented.
Maybe, it might not have altered significantly what would have happened, but at least the level of engagement –– and who knows? Some of the ideas that might have been put forward may have been or could have been embraced. So I still believe that there is room for that type of engagement to take place; so that there is a demonstration of commitment that we speak to in terms of consultation and dialogue.
So Government has not consulted with the Social Partners on the municipal tax?
De Peiza: Let’s put it this way. There has not been a discussion that I am aware of where we have been brought to the table and the merit and demerits of such a measure hammered out.
Where do we go from here, now the tax is with us? The Government says it’s proceeding with it?
De Peiza: Any time that you can determine what should or should not be done, that can only be done through disclosure of information, to know all the facts and to be able to make some input into the discussions.
So you’re still hoping that Government will still bring you up to date on this matter?
De Peiza: That is something that is in the open. It hasn’t taken place that I am aware of . . . . I’m sure the labour movement will be willing and ready to have that type of discussion to see what can be done, or what can be measured in terms of the outcry that has come from the public at large.
What are your union members saying to this tax right now?
De Peiza: We in the labour movement have not fully discussed the matter as yet. Of course, we have had small pockets of discussion, but not in terms of our major grouping. It’s on our agenda very much; but we were hoping to have further information first before we can go and start a discussion which is more or less premature in a sense, because it is not based on thorough information that would help us . . . .
So do you support the call by the Opposition, which is behind the march today; which is for a repeal of this measure?
De Peiza: Every organization has its agenda. The Opposition would have more information than we have, and they know why they are staging their protests, and what they intend to get out of it. But I am saying that we are reserving our position on this case until we are fully informed, and then make a judgement based on a set data that is placed before us.
What sort of information do you really want though, because you know the people are going to say you know that the tax is going to be 0.3 per cent in terms of the improved value of the land? You know too that seniors are going to be exempted, and you know too as well that agricultural landowners are going to be paying half the price, and everybody has until December 31 to pay now? So what more do you need to know?
De Peiza:You are talking about after the fact. We are talking about what has informed the discussion. Don’t forget I spoke to you in terms of what we have agreed upon as part of the strategies for growth and recovery of Barbados and before this measure was brought to the table.
It was not raised at the level of the Social Partnership; so since it is something extraneous, I believe we should have some background as to why this is taking a place, just as much as we would have been informed about the intention to retrenched 3,000 public officers, I believe the courtesy should be to bring this to table and have a discussion in like manner.
You said it’s on your agenda. When are you likely to discuss this matter?
De Peiza: We were to meet on it last week. Well, unfortunately, we had some issues resulting out of the death of our president’s wife, and we were not able to convene that meeting; but we have set a date for a board meeting to examine this among other matters.
And what date is that?
De Peiza: That is an executive board meeting which will be held on August 7. A bit long because of other pressing commitments we have to scheduled at that time.
CTUSAB has no part in today’s white march then?
De Peiza: We weren’t invited and I don’t think CTUSAB is an organization that would just get up and join a march like that. Of course, that has to be part of a decision that has to be made by the members of CTUSAB, and, as I said without the benefit of a discussion for us to come to a position, I don’t think CTUSAB would be so callous as to just go and march in those circumstances.
Some people criticize the union saying it is not representing the workers, and maybe some would suggest that because you haven’t even met on the municipal tax, it is a sign that you are stepping away from your mandate?
De Peiza: I think that people have to understand how the Congress of Trade Unions operates. The Congress of Trade Unions is an umbrella body that deals with policy matters, but our individuals unions are constituents that would meet and discuss on whatever matters they need to at the national level and then they feed into the Congress. So it is at this point that we would then have that discussion that would lead us a definitive position. That is not to say that the individual unions have not been discussing the matter with their constituents.
So I think if people are going to take that stance, that they should first ask themselves: did your union consult with you or are you aware of what is happening within the individual union? Because that is not necessarily the remit of the Congress.
Is it a wise move by the Opposition at this time? Does the country need a protest march now?
De Peiza: I would not wish to say if it is wise or unwise. Every organization has to make its own determination; and if in their judgement that is what they want to do, then they are free to do so, because as an Opposition there must be expectations from their constituents in that regard.
The union has in the past used protests as a means of stating its message. Is the municipal tax something that is worthy of a protest?
De Peiza: Once that is a decision taken by the unions at any forum that we have, then we are commited to something like that; but a decision has not been made.
How is the BWU these days? We know last week they were missing from the Social Partnership meeting. Are they back on board yet? Has the Prime Minister been able to reach out to them?
De Peiza: Well, that question I would respectfully suggest you should direct to the Prime Minister; but so far I have not had any response from the Barbados Workers’ Union to the point of re-entry into the Congress.
Have you reached out to them?
De Peiza: I always say that is an ongoing thing. My president has spoken on several occasions: at last year’s biennial conference and every opportunity that we have we always make our public comment that we would like to welcome the Barbados Workers’ Union back to the fold. We don’t have any qualms about anything; we have no axe to grind; we are one fraternity; we have always been a part of a strong labour movement in Barbados.
We anticipate there can no difficulty that can be too big which cannot be overridden in this case; and we believe that it’s just a matter of time before whatever perceived breach there is is settled.
So the trade union movement has not lost its way?
De Peiza: Can’t you see the vibrancy that has been maintaining the Congress? The Congress has been continuing to play its role in every sense, based on its constitution and its mandate; and it has been doing what it is suppose to do; and I don’t think it would be a fair comment to make that the Congress is not playing the role.
People may have expectations, but we have to what is right. You still have to do things according to the standards and principles to which you subscribe.
So you are happy with where you are in terms of the representation of those 3000 workers that have been retrenched at this stage. Everything is being done for them that can be done at this stage?
De Peiza: We’ve always said and the two unions who were involved in the process, they spoke to what should have been done in accordance with the law. The matter is now before the Employment Rights Tribunal; so I will leave it there. But we would certainly like to make sure that whatever happens follows the process and procedures that are established.