If there is one person who is not worried too much about the likelihood of a national strike or ongoing protests in various sectors, it is Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
Stuart, who has in the past come under harsh criticisms for keeping silent on a number of national issues or for seeming not to be addressing some matters with urgency, told members of the media on Saturday, in a brief interview, that the ongoing protests and noises regarding some changes in Government agencies were “little mountains we have to climb” before things could improve.
And he believes it will all “pan out” in due course.
Stuart gave his assessment of labour relations issues as he responded to a question from this newspaper during a tour on Day 2 of the annual Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX) at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
For just over a week private haulers and movers have protested the Government’s controversial $25 tipping fee, with hopes of a compromise. However, on Friday the Ministry of the Environment and Drainage, gave the impression that the Government would be sticking to its guns on that tax.
And with just over a month to go before the Customs Department is merged into the Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), Customs officers and their union representatives have been bitterly complaining that they remain in the dark over key aspects of the process, which is to result in the establishment of a new revenue collection and enforcement unit called the External Taxes and Border Control Division.
In protest over the BRA move, Customs officers at the Bridgetown Port went on a go-slow earlier this week, with president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Tracey Shuffler expressing grave concern about the impact on business.
Also this week the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) Toni Moore served notice of a national strike due to outstanding issues in a range of sectors.
However, responding to those concerns on Saturday, Stuart said: “I don’t think we need to worry too much about that”.
“As I said on May Day when I addressed the Barbados Workers Union, trade unions are supposed to make noise on behalf of the persons they represent. A trade unionist who sits quiet and gives his constituency the impression that there are no issues to fight from his or her behalf is really no trade unionist at all. So these noises have to be made,” said Stuart, adding that he was 100 per cent sure that trade unions were committed to the best interest of the island.
“There are issues with which we are dealing. You mentioned the haulers, that issue is engaging the Ministry of the Environment. When new issues are put on the table, necessarily, the very fact that the issues are new lend to a certain measure of shock and there are always issues to iron out, that is happening now. I mean, on any objective assessment of that issue, it is not as intense today, as it was earlier in the week because the more people talk and the more people get to understand, the more scaling down of the tension there is,” pointed out Stuart.
In relation to the Customs transition, Stuart highlighted that a similar path was tread before with the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH). He said like with the Customs there was “a lot of trade union agitation then too”.
And he acknowledged that people would necessarily have questions about the move, pointing out that it was the responsibility of the Government and the BRA officials to answer those questions.
“But when all is said and done, there is going to be a Barbados Revenue Authority and the Customs Department is going to be a part of it, the revenue collection in the country is going to improve, but these are little mountains we have to climb on the way there,” said a frank speaking Stuart.
“So I wouldn’t advise them to get too agitated about any of this. All this will pan out eventually and all will be well,” he assured. (MM)