Former Deputy General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) Robert Bobby Morris today delivered a stinging tongue lashing against his old union, claiming it was now being controlled by the Mia Mottley-led Barbados Labour Party (BLP).
Furthermore, Morris slammed the leadership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), contending it too was a BLP union and its President Akanni McDowall was leading General Secretary Roslyn Smith.
“The Barbados Workers’ Union right now is under the control of the Barbados Labour Party. The executive council of the Barbados Workers’ Union is made up mainly of Barbados Labour Party supporters. The NUPW too,” Morris said as he delivered today’s lecture at the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) headquarters on George Street, as the part of the DLP’s weekly Astor B Watts lunchtime lecture series.
“What is happening is that you are going to get more and more people infiltrating groups and apparently they find that the trade union is easily infiltrated, so that is where they have moved,” he said.
Morris appeared upset that the two unions, along with the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and the Barbados Union of Teachers, had come together with the private sector to plan a march on Monday to press the Freundel Stuart administration to compromise on the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), which jumped from two per cent to ten per cent effective July 1, and to return to the negotiating table.
The retired trade unionist said he was at a loss as to how an industrial relations dispute had emerged from a tax increase, while accusing the unions of acting on behalf of a few thousand members to “lick up the lives” of over 200,000 residents.
He also wondered why McDowall appeared to be the one in charge at the NUPW.
“I have this serious problem with the trade union called the NUPW now. There was never a president who could lead the general secretary in that union. For years you were hearing about Denis Clarke and Joe Goddard, now a paid public servant, Mr Akanni McDowall, is doing the work and the people were paid a salary, but the NUPW you can’t hear them at all, like little servants. But that can’t be right.
“You couldn’t pay Sir Roy [Trotman] to do the work as a general secretary and then get [President General] Linda Brooks to be parading ‘bout the place. It can’t happen. So how have we allowed that to develop in the NUPW, a person who is paid from being a public servant and he is out there pulling down Government? We have never had presidents like that. We have never had presidents who took over the roll of a paid general secretary and the staff. That is an aberration of the worse kind,” said Morris.
He also questioned why the umbrella Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations appeared to be staying out of the ongoing rift between the labour movement and Government.
He further charged that “there are some” who are trying to “push the private sector and others” in a particular direction, seemingly taking a dig at Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association Charles Herbert, who he said should “watch himself too, lest it be said he is to form some kind of a political alliance between the private sector and the Opposition.
“I hope it isn’t true but the logic of history is compelling sometimes,” Morris said.
Meantime, the DLP stalwart said the industrial dispute resolution process was in need of review.
He said the current arrangement where senior civil servants in the Ministry of the Civil Service and the Personnel Administration Department were negotiating with other public servants, often their subordinates, was “a recipe for disaster”.
Instead, he advised that Government should hire professional negotiators to engage the unions, along with a system that allows for binding arbitration should the talks fail.
“If it breaks down, right now you cannot go to the Labour department for reconciliation because that is czar going to czar. So the Labour department has no role. So set up immediately, conciliation panels . . . so if you break down at that level where your negotiating committee and the trade union cannot get agreement, it goes up to mediation and if they can’t settle that at mediation you go to binding arbitration and done with that. You are not going to get threats of general strikes again, it can’t happen,” Morris said.
During his presentation the former DLP senator acknowledged that the country’s finances were “under stress”, but said he was not convinced that the private sector and the general public were struggling as much as they were suggesting.
“I have not seen financial reports and balance sheets that show that our private sector is in serious difficulties, the large ones that have to publish their financial reports. I don’t get the impression they are struggling.
“It does not mean that households are necessarily struggling either. All this thing about the introduction of taxes, I see how households behave in Barbados, I see them getting ready or Crop Over, I travel the length and breadth of this country and see the cars that people drive, I see the houses that people live in and I want to know where is this impression that the households are that depressed or that the private sector is that depressed,” he said.