In light of recent labour related disputes, the Human Resources Management Association of Barbados (HRMAB) is raising concern over the management of industrial relations in Barbados.
In a statement issued today by its President of HRMAB Arlene Bushell, the organization described the current situation as “far from satisfactory”, adding that a national symposium with input from all stakeholders was now needed.
The discussions, it said, should lead to the identification of strengths and weaknesses of the systems and measures necessary for making labour administration more responsive to the changing world of business and workplace relations.
The Association also zeroed in on the recent dispute over Government’s planned absorption of Customs & Excise Department employees into the umbrella Barbados Revenue Authority (BRA), saying it could have been avoided.
However, it lamented that the situation was allowed to deteriorate to the stage of “positional bargaining rather the principled bargaining actions”.
“We believe such actions could have been averted had Government taken steps when creating the BRA, to conduct purposeful and continuing dialogue, between a designated team of relevant Government officials and representatives of trade unions serving employees of the affected revenue-collecting agencies,” HRMAB said, while calling for arrangements to be put in place that would encourage “free and frank” exchanges between Government officials and trade union representatives on critical policy and operational issues.
The Association also said there was need for new thinking within the public sector.
“ . . . HRMAB considers that while creation of joint labour-management committees, as a general principle, would
help to minimize tensions between Government and organized labour, such progressive action cannot substitute for strengthening the technical knowledge and competencies of top-level public sector officials in modern industrial relations practice,” it said, adding that such action was necessary in order to achieve substantive changes in the attitudes of senior public officials to workplace and labour-management relations.
“Conversely, there is need for the leadership of organized labour to adopt more enlightened strategies and tactics to protect the interest of their membership and promote the importance and value of trade unions in our 21stcentury realities,” it added.
“Such changes in both the public and private sector environment are required for creating better union-management relations and consequently the avoidance of unnecessary industrial disputes.”
It said application of the dispute settlement procedure in both private and public sectors was also a source of concern.
It pointed out that the three-tier conciliation model involving reference of unresolved collective disputes to the Chief Labour Officer, the Minister of Labour and the Prime Minister was not only time consuming but “may be questioned in the context of transformational management and industrial relations practices”.
In fact, HRMAB said the involvement of Government ministers in industrial dispute settlement raised “questions of conflict of interest and the need for attention to be given to development of alternative arrangements that provide greater transparency, accountability and acceptability to interested parties”.
“The conciliation responsibilities of the Labour Department and Ministry of Labour raise the question of whether the much-cherished national system of voluntarism in industrial relations has lost its relevance in today’s workplace, which is so heavily influenced by the effects of globalization and trade liberalization,” it said.
As for the labour unions, HRMAB said “the recent emergence” of the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) “appears set to trigger inter-union rivalry for representational rights, a situation that is not a feature of the national labour movement”.
“Over the years, the relationship between trade unions has normally been characterized by mutual respect especially between the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) in representing their respective areas of jurisdiction.
“That script appears to have changed dramatically by the advent of the UWU,” it said.
“Related to this significant change in the composition of organized labour, is the ongoing absence of the BWU from the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), a feature that is detrimental to the effectiveness of both the BWU and CTUSAB.
“HRMAB considers division between the BWU and CTUSAB to be a serious threat to the stability of the industrial relations landscape and the tripartite cooperation in national economic and social policy-making.”
It has therefore called on the leadership of both organizations to “work diligently towards reconciliation and rebuilding confidence in the trade union movement”.
“To this end, we recommend that the services of a panel of prominent Barbadians be enlisted to assist in bringing about a resolution in this matter.
“Such reconciliation, we believe, will pave the way for their renewed role in forging democratic, economically productive decision-making for Barbados that incorporate social justice,” said HRMAB, adding that it stood ready and willing to assist in any review or formulation of relevant laws to labour management and industrial relations in Barbados.