Racism in Barbados is real and it is high time the authorities and the people stop treating the issue as though it does not exist, outspoken General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union Caswell Franklyn has claimed.
In a matter-of-fact assessment of the situation in which he spared no one, Franklyn contended that race relations here remained a contentious issue that few seemed willing to address.
And he challenged Barbadians to face it head on as the country prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary of independence.
“It is not residual racism. Racism has been here in Barbados for a long time but we have been ignoring it. For a very long time we have been trying to give people the impression that it is not there, but it has always been present in Barbados . . . We cannot gloss over this issue anymore. This issue is too big,” the union leader told Barbados TODAY in an interview.
“Some of it has been replaced by classism, because a lot of our black people who made good have turned around and started treating their black brothers and sisters just as the white people were treating them in the past,” he charged.
Franklyn’s comments came amid a highly charged atmosphere at the luxurious Apes Hill Club in St James where the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) has been battling for recognition of workers.
Management of the club has refused to accept the BWU as the workers’ representative, insisting on a vote. The union issued a strongly worded and controversial statement earlier this week, accusing the company of “engaging in industrial terrorism” and practising “mental and economic slavery” against the workers.
In an angry and fiery retort, Apes Hill developer Sir Charles Williams suggested the workers were ingrates and laggards and threatened to shut down the business and “ send home all 400 people that working up there”.
Franklyn appeared to side with the BWU, comparing the conditions at the plush facility to South Africa in the apartheid era and demanded to hear from Government on the issue.
He also made reference to a case now before the Employment Rights Tribunal in which he claimed a black manager at a different company, given the responsibility of training a white supervisor, was being paid less than his charge.
“When the black manager, who is a member of my union, found out that the white supervisor was being paid more than him he drew it to the attention of senior management and they dismissed him. That matter is now pending before the Employment Rights Tribunal,” Franklyn contended.
He was also upset at reports that one of the workers on the picket line was struck by “someone who does not believe in the sanctity of a black life”, and called for the arrest of the alleged perpetrator.
“I am waiting for the arrest of the member of the Apes Hill project, but I am not hearing any reports that the police [are] doing [their] duty. If I had done that I would have been in Dodds. Even if the workers were obstructing the road, the Trade Union Act allows workers to picket peacefully.”
The two sides put the heavy rhetoric behind them and met yesterday for 90 minutes of “cordial” talks under the chairmanship of Chief Labour Officer Vincent Burnett, although the outstanding issues of pay and conditions of employment remained unresolved.
However, they agreed to meet again “between now and next week”, according to Deputy General Secretary of the BWU Dwaine Paul, to try to settle the differences which sparked a three-day work stoppage by more than 40 maintenance staff.
“We have reviewed the matter and we are going to continue discussions towards concluding the outstanding issues between the parties,” Paul said.