The social partnership is being painted as a sinister scheme that is bad for workers and designed to keep them in check.
General Secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union Caswell Franklyn said yesterday that workers had not benefited form the protocol, established during the economic crisis of the early 1990s to facilitate meaningful dialogue among Government, the private sector and the trade union movement with a view to solving national problems.
“That protocol has been used to the benefit of the employers and Government. The workers have gained nothing from this protocol,” Franklyn said in his contribution to a panel discussion on Contemporary Industrial Relations in Barbados: Challenges, Threats and Opportunities at the start of a two-day cross disciplinary conference at the University of the West Indies.
“The protocol and this Social Partnership was conceived to control the workers and the workers fell for it. The unions fell for it. Mind you, the model that we have might sound good on paper [but] it does not work. Labour held up its end of the bargain but nobody else did,” he added.
That was why, the outspoken trade union leader said, the arrangement ought to be scrapped.
Franklyn was not the only one questioning the effectiveness of the Social Partnership at yesterday’s event.
General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) Toni Moore said the mechanism was a good one to solve a range of issues affecting labour relations.
However, she said it was being used “as a tool to undermine the working class” instead of helping to resolve challenges.
“When we speak of defending social rights and reversing social disruption and so on, if [the] Social Partnership as a model was effectively being used, it is through that medium that suggestions can come,” Moore told the audience.
She made reference to controversy surrounding the outsourcing of garbage collection by the Sanitation Service Authority, saying “people are inclined to shift away from a principle” of first having discussion.
“What is the unions’ problem? The unions’ problem is that there was not discussion. So you go and jump and put on a plaster on the cut and you don’t clean it off. You don’t know what is going on close to the bone or anything,” Moore said.
The BWU ended its participation in the Social Partnership in 2013 following a fallout with the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, prompting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to call for détente in a May Day address this year.
“All sides now recognize that the Barbados Workers Union is the most representative trade union in Barbados and should be allowed to return to the Social Partnership and the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados,” Stuart said at the time, contending that having “midwifed” the Social Partnership and CTUSAB, the BWU should be welcomed back into both groupings.
Concerns about a lack of communication within the Partnership, particularly on the part of Government, have been raised in the past.
During a Central Bank-sponsored televised panel discussion in late January, on the performance of the Barbados economy, Executive Director of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Lisa Gale had said the Partnership had not been working effectively, nor was it delivering the results that it was meant to deliver.
In fact, Gale had at the time described the lack of communication from Government on the outcomes of various measures it has implemented as one of the two biggest challenges facing the private sector, the other being delays getting goods cleared at the Customs & Excise Department.