Nearly eight months after the passage of Tropical Storm Matthew last September, local employers say they are still awaiting clarification from Government on its national shutdown policy.
“There were members of our organization who would have found themselves basically in an awkward position because there remain areas we think in the disaster management programme that need further clarification and further discussion,” said President of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) Marguerite Estwick, while calling for more action and less talk at the level of the Social Partnership between Government, employers and unions, with a view to ensuring that issues raised at the tripartite level can be addressed in a timely manner.
In this context, she expressed concern that there was still no clear national shutdown procedure, even after some business operators – including Cabinet minister Denis Kellman – were heavily criticized for keeping their private establishments open and calling out their employees during Matthew’s passage on September 28.
The actions, which drew strong condemnation from Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Adriel Brathwaite who had told a news briefing at the headquarters of the Department of Emergency Management (DEM) in Warrens, St Michael in the immediate aftermath of the storm that it was nothing short of “irresponsible” for businesses to place their employees’ lives in danger by asking them to report to work despite a national shutdown.
“While we understand the importance of businesses and what they are trying to do, the reality is this, from what we are being told, it is dangerous out there. And I think it is irresponsible for these institutions, if what I am hearing is correct, to open for business at this point in time when we are asking persons to stay indoors because of how dangerous their surroundings are,” Brathwaite had said.
His position was supported at the time by then Acting Prime Minister Richard Sealy who had said Brathwaite was looking into the matter with a view to possibly making it mandatory to comply with state-declared orders to shut down. Minister of Commerce Donville Inniss had also joined in the condemnation of businesses that put the “almighty dollar” ahead of the safety and security of consumers and staff in times of disaster.
However, since then, employers have called for further clarification from Government on the protocols for a national shutdown, given that the DEM’s Policy Framework and Standard Operating Procedures for the Systematic Shutdown and Reactivation of Barbados in times of severe weather, tropical storms or hurricanes lists supermarkets – as well as utility companies, minimarts, shops, pharmacies, general stores, including hardware stores and lumberyards, companies that provide public transportation and telecommunication providers – as essential services.
However, Estwick told reporters at a media conference at the BEC’s Breamer Court, Brittons Hill headquarters today that the issue was far from settled.
She also raised the issue of national productivity, suggesting that while the Social Partnership had served the country well over the years, it was time for the partners to revisit the arrangement, “so that the valuable time spent regularly at these important meetings result in defined path and accountabilities for improvements desired.
“It is imperative that at the level of the Social Partnership we set the time and lead the national drive for improved productivity in 2017,” Estwick said, adding that like people, institutions needed to “move from infancy to adulthood”.
“We think that there must be a process of making the consultations far more efficient [after] there are cordial discussions . . . . We need to see some improved efficiency in terms of issues raised at the Social Partnership, the timeliness with which they are addressed so that we do not spend as much time talking around issues and having these issues come up, and we reiterate the matters arising from minutes with very little actions coming out of them,” she stressed.