An important initiative was undertaken during Monday’s May Day celebrations. It might one day come to be remembered as the Browne’s Beach Accord.
With broad, decorative smiles across their faces as they posed proudly for the cameras, the leaders of the Barbados Workers Union, the National Union of Public Workers, the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), the umbrella Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados, and the Barbados Nurses Association, signed a productivity pledge document during the annual May Day rally at Browne’s Beach, in collaboration with the National Productivity Council. It was for the signatories no doubt a momentous occasion.
A commitment has been made to strive towards making the 12 months preceding 2018 the Year of Productivity. The unions collectively pledged “to participate in the recovery and the growth efforts of Barbados by assisting in the implementation of productivity and development programmes, and by collaborating with Government and all Social Partners in productivity-related activities”. The union accord also committed to inspiring labour towards continuous improvement in all of its endeavours.
Executive Director of the National Productivity Council John Pilgrim told the workers gathered at the Labour Day rally that the success of the push towards increased productivity was up to them. He explained that their successes or failures would redound to their country.
“As labourers, whether management or employees, we need to recognize the crucial role we play in contributing to the productivity of our nation. Whatever we do, or even more importantly, what we fail to do, weighs heavily in the balance as either contributing to or distracting from productivity. Let us ask ourselves some meaningful questions, those that help us practise the most productive behaviours. In this way we can all be champions of productivity,” Mr Pilgrim said.
We have no doubt that the parties to the Browne’s Beach Accord all have good patriotic intentions. The more difficult task that lies ahead is to transfer good intentions into practical, actual and fair responses to instances where non-productivity raises its indolent head. The challenge is to combat a culture where productivity is not necessarily rooted in the consciousness of this country’s majority.
Those representatives of labour will also have the challenge of fulfilling the mandate of their pledge while carrying out the function for which they were principally created – to represent and protect the interest of the worker. And in most, if not all instances, this representation is basically guaranteed and expected irrespective of whether the worker is right or wrong in any impasse with capital. After Monday’s pledge can the BUT or BSTU contemplate industrial pressure to acquire payment for teaching hours not taught?
For all the magnificent strides made in post-independent Barbados, productivity remains below par in the estimation of many. One can only imagine what might have been if productivity over the past 50 years was at the highest possible levels that would have now led those at Browne’s Beach on Monday to recognize that more must be consistently achieved in this area.
The signatories to the Browne’s Beach Accord will have to battle against a culture that encourages abandonment of productivity. They will also have to battle against a culture where a lunch hour is really 120 minutes; a culture where a funeral is reason for abandonment of a day’s work for many attendees; a culture where uncertified sick days are to be taken simply because they are available; a culture where certified sick days, in the public service especially, can often challenge and exceed working days; a culture where heavy rainfall is often cause to stay away from work.
The good souls at Browne’s Beach will also have to deal with those at the Barbados Water Authority who too frequently oversee a situation where a crew of 12 is sent to work on a burst main after regular working hours and half remain idle while work is done, only for overtime pay claims to be subsequently made by a dozen.
The reality of the situation is that we in Barbados tend to talk a very good walk, but we are not always keen to walk the talk. Motives are palpably useless if they are not acted upon. Attempting to change the culture of doings things, especially those with which people have grown comfortable, can lead some to feel offended and threatened. Hopefully, those smiling on Monday for the cameras can find their way through the lights, the words and the rhetoric.