General Secretary of the Unity Workers Union (UWU) Caswell Franklyn is fuming over the passage of the new Shop Act, describing it as “nasty”, “madness” and “fancy foolishness”, while accusing Government of trying to break up families and raise the rate of divorce.
In a stinging review of the legislation enacted last month and which provides for longer opening hours for retail businesses which previously operated from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Franklyn accused the Freundel Stuart administration of a sinister plot to take advantage of workers so businesses can increase their profit margins.
Minister of Industry and International Business Donville Inniss has promoted the new legislation as part of Government’s overall plan to transition to a 24-hour society, which will see more flexible working hours and working arrangements.
The Act makes provision for businesses to open 24 hours, beginning at 7:00 a.m. on Monday through to 10 p.m. on Sunday.
However, Franklyn told Barbados TODAY it would result in inconvenient working hours and reduced income for some category workers. Citing shop assistants as an example, he said they make as little as $250 a week and often depended on overtime pay to help supplement their income but would now lose this overtime pay.
“The Government is taking advantage of the workers and hiding it up. They have done nothing beneficial for shop assistants. The only thing they have done is to allow the owners of the businesses to save a little money because they won’t have to pay overtime as they would have in the past.
“No Government of Barbados who talks about they care about the workers, should do something as nasty as this and then turn around and big it up as a complete benefit. I don’t know what madness he is thinking about . . . They put a lot of fancy foolishness out there just to distract people. This is nonsense. It is not beneficial to the vast majority of Barbadians. It does not make sense,” he contended.
Ranting about the unfairness of the Act, Franklyn questioned the administration’s commitment to family life, arguing it was a sure way to split families. He charged that the unusual hours would prevent families from spending “quality time” together. And he referred to a 30-year-old study to support his contention that the change could result in an increase in the number of divorces.
“All that’s going to do is to stop people from having quality time with their families. And this is a Government that started talking about families first, now they want to break up families by having the breadwinners away from home while the children are sleeping. This is not well thought out.
“When I first came into the labour movement back in the 80s, there was a survey done that said divorces in Barbados were highest among policemen and nurses, the reason being they were working shifts, long hours away from home. So now you’re going to do the same thing to everybody else,” Franklyn charged.
He argued that Barbados was not a nine-to-five society since some supermarkets remained open as late as 10 p.m. and petrol stations operated for 24 hours, a practice he contended had been illegal until the passage of the new legislation.
“And these little grocery shops at the back of the gas stations, those have been operating contrary to law for years. All Government did was to allow them to operate legally by changing the law,” Franklyn said.