Retired trade union leader Denis Clarke is suggesting the labour movement in its current structure, is failing people, and needs a new style of industrial relations to include worker participation from the lowest level.
“One of the big mistakes we are making in the western world is that we are not reaching out to the workers and making them feel a part of the institution . . . so therefore their attitude and everything change as a result, and that too, has impacted on how they see the union. So perhaps you need a new style of industrial relations,” the former General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
Clarke said public sector workers had been incrementally losing various social benefits since 1976, and services such as medical insurance and pension schemes, by the unions, established by the movement were lacking.
He added that young people in particular had little incentive to join the unions.
“These people don’t have any incentives now to drive membership, which I believe they are making a mistake, because if they all come together they would realize they don’t have to depend on the employer . . . the union could build economic power for them. They are not doing it, that’s why we are where we are,” he added.
To press home his point, the retired NUPW boss also suggested the establishment of a medical centre, reasonable rates of insurance and a pension system to take care of retired public workers.
“I started to look at us . . . building a medical centre. That is the direction the movement should go, especially with the high medical costs,” Clarke said.
He recalled advising the country when he was leading the NUPW that medical insurance would be required once the Queen Elizabeth Hospital became a statutory board.
“We got a group of people in this country feel you going to get everything free from Government. Nobody ain’t sitting down and working out where the money is going to come from to maintain these things.”
The former trade union leader said an added challenge that was putting pressure on the movement related to the new approach to employment, with life-long employment no longer the way of the world.
Instead, he told Barbados TODAY, young people were embracing for-service or zero contracts which did not require union involvement.
“We seem not to have an answer to the economic mess that the world found itself in when you had the meltdown – you waiting and depending on the United States and Britain,” he said.
Meanwhile, President of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations Cedric Murrell had some advice for the newly elected leadership of the NUPW.
Murrell urged the executive to be careful not to be distracted by the political talk.
“Once the election is now over I expect the NUPW would once more live together and be the fighting force it has always been. The union has to be careful that it does not take some of the things that are being said otherwise elsewhere. The NUPW, in fact all unions, have always persons of whatever political persuasions that exist in the country . . . and some of none,” he said.