The head of the country’s largest private sector union has torn into the umbrella body of trade unions, describing it as the “weakest link” within the movement, even while hinting at reconciliation.
The Barbados Workers Union (BWU) withdrew its membership from the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB) in 2013, with then General Secretary Sir Roy Trotman saying the decision was to “prevent a deliberate effort to marginalize” the BWU.
The split stemmed for a decision by the Ministry of Labour to remove the BWU as the workers’ representative at the annual conference of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and have CTUSAB choose the delegate instead.
In a fiery address at the union’s May Day rally at Brownes Beach yesterday, General Secretary Toni Moore did not mince words as she spoke about the relationship with the umbrella body.
She blamed the Ministry of Labour for the split and described CTUSAB as weak and lacking “margins of independence and freedom”.
“It is the adoption of cynical approaches by the Ministry of Labour which, in the first place, caused the divide,” she told workers and their representatives, with Prime Minister Freundel Stuart sitting behind her on the stage.
“Government has since opted to have partnership discussions with the weakest link – an umbrella that is missing its strongest supporting spokes. For surely, a trade union or national centre which has no clear margins of independence and freedom – financial and otherwise – cannot influence the conditions of workers and marginalized segments”.
Moore recalled that Sir Roy had stated that Government appeared more interested in following the advice of international development agencies that made it clear that countries with weak or no unions were the best ones for investment.
She then struck a conciliatory note saying: “But now labour must fix itself.”
The BWU boss also hinted at a possible rapprochement when she revealed that later this week there would be a meeting of “a partnership of sorts”.
The union’s position as the lead organization in the island’s delegation to the ILO conference has been restored, but Moore demanded more, saying her union should receive full recognition as the top labour representative at all fora.
She thanked Stuart for resolving the contentious issue and for ensuring that the BWU had been returned to the board of the Barbados Investment Development Corporation (BIDC).
However, she said this was not enough and called for the BWU to be represented on the boards of other statutory bodies, such as the National Initiative for Service Excellence (NISE) and the National Conservation Commission (NCC).
“We now need you to move beyond restoring BWU to its rightful place as head of the workers’ delegation at the ILO, for that was never the core of our concern. You must continue the process of having workers’ largest representative represent nationally, at the [Social] Partnership level and on boards where labour’s input is vital.
“You have started by restoring our participation on the board of the BIDC, where we have not been able to serve for the past 18 months for reasons unknown to us. But there are others, including the C144 Committee, NISE and the NCC,” she told the Prime Minister who sat behind the union leader as she addressed workers at the rally at Brownes Beach.
C144 is an ILO supported national committee with which Government and the private sector must consult on issues relating to labour standards.
In addition, Moore advised Stuart against sending mixed messages, advising the Prime Minister to ensure that members of his Cabinet follow his lead and adopt similar positions with the union.