This island’s private sector has come in for a severe tongue-lashing from political scientist Don Marshall, who has accused it of doing very little for the Social Partnership making decisions to suit only itself, and no accountability.
The Director of the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) launched the scathing attack during a Democratic Labour Party (DLP), James Tudor Institute of Politics-sponsored panel discussion themed, Barbados and The Decolonisation Process; The Experience of Political Independence.
Marshall made clear that his problem with the tripartite arrangement, which brings together Government, trade unions and the private sector for a joint charting of the way forward to national growth, was not to do with the “quarreling among family members” since in his estimation “there has got to be dissent”.
However, he expressed strong concern about “how the business class is insulated from the politics of triparticism (sic).
“The Governments are held to account, even if it is once every five years. The unions are held to account because dues-paying members can switch. And all the employers do is promise to perform, but we have no sense of controlling, cajoling, influencing their business decisions,” explained Marshall, adding “whether they decide to dis-invest, or go into conspicuous consumption, [there is] nothing we can do.”
Also commenting on the matter was Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Education Harry Husbands, who contended that a collegue of Dr Marshall had advised the Union not to be part of the Social Partnership
However, Husbands questioned why should the workers leave the arena of discussion, which he said began dealing strictly with matters of industrial relations but had evolved into discussions on every aspect of Barbadian society.
“The [Social] Partnership is not Parliament, not an alternative Government. It is a process of consultation, to get the opportunity to make your points and make some contribution to that budgetary process,” Husbands added.
In recent months there have been mixed views expressed on the future of the Social Partnership with Head of the Department of Government and Sociology at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill, Dr Tennyson Joseph suggesting that “the objective basis of its ‘substance’ no longer holds”.
In one of his public writings, Joseph argued, that the Social Partnership was created as an institution primarily aimed at the containment of labour. In the context of the need for austerity in the mid-1990s, despite the claims to a prices and incomes protocol, it has been labour which has borne the brunt of the burden of structural adjustment and global crisis.
“Prices continue to rise and workers continue to be laid off; yet the only entity that continues to believe in the spirit of tripartism is the labour movement. Indeed, it has become a sad and pathetic daily reminder of the emasculation of the unions to hear the leaders of the movement pledge their commitment to ‘keeping wage demands down’, due to the challenges of the economy, when the sacrifices of the other “partners” are difficult to identify.”
However, delivering the feature address at the opening of a two-day symposium, sponsored by the umbrella trade union body, CTUSAB and the International Labour Organisation earlier this week, another noted academic and one-time trade unionist Dr Akhentolove Corbin critisized as misguided and an unamed collegue for allegedly encouraging unions to limit there participation in the social patnership. Adding to his dismissal of Joseph’s contention, Corbin made a passionate call for the Barbados Workers Union to re-join CTUSAB.
The UWI Lecturer in business strategies, human resources management and planning, said it was important for the functioning of the island’s Social Partnership that the labour congress was fully represented.
“I am calling on the Barbados Workers’ Union to re-join CTUSAB as a matter of urgent priority so that it can be officially part of the Social Partnership, in the important sub-committee and a willing member of the workers’ representatives of the workers in a united and harmonious body, before Labour Day 2016,” he said in the Horatio Cooke Auditorium at the National Union of Public Workers’ Dalkeith headquarters.
Led then by the now retired General Secretary Sir Roy Trotman, the island’s largest trade union, the BWU, in 2013 severed ties with CTUSAB, complaining of marginalisation and that its voice was not being heard within the labour congress.
“Too many years have passed,” Corbin said, arguing that “the Social Partnership provides an avenue for the trade unions to influence private sector decision-making, and through associated agencies like the productive Council and the National Initiate of Service Excellence to impact in a meaningful way.
“The trade union movement and leadership must become more strategic, more involved in policy decisions affecting our countries,” he stressed.
He referred to the commitment to harmony of the ILO, the world governing body on labour, arguing that harmony promotes respect for diversity and differences in an organisation of unity.
“Harmony is not only for the external relationships but also for the trade union movement.
“Every Labour Day we sing about unity and that, ‘one hand cannot clap’.”
This Corbin contended also means, “one note cannot create harmony.
“It is time that all hands in the Barbados labour movement clap at the national level, and the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, must be acknowledged as the only congress of trade unions in the country,” he said, acknowledging “ it is an uncomfortable subject for some people, even trade unionists”