Not so long ago, Barbados was the envy of the Caribbean and the rest of the developing world for its Social Partnership which sprung out of the economic crisis of the early 1990s as a workable national cooperation model between labour, employers and the state.
Indeed, the Barbados arrangement was held aloft as a template for others to follow, and its architects were widely credited for conceiving of an initiative that not only contributed to the reversal of the economic decline, but more importantly, to a path of sustained growth with the implementation of the First Protocol – the Prices and Incomes Policy – between 1993 and 1995.
Since then, officials journeyed from far and near to study this “wonderful” model of tripartite cooperation among Government, trade unions and the country’s private sector, in the hope of successfully replicating it one day.
Among those who were seemingly very impressed with the Barbados example was the now late Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Sir Dwight Venner, who on more than one occasion, including his delivery of the Eighth Patrick Emmanuel Memorial Lecture at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus, publicly declared that the Barbados Social Partnership was worthy of emulation by the sub-region.
“There must be a balance between consumption and production, which will involve a pact between the state, the private sector and the trade unions to maintain the balance and trade-offs in wages, [and] prices,” Sir Dwight had suggested at the time.
“This pact has been successful in Barbados and should be replicated throughout the region,” he stressed, while hailing the three-way agreement as the instrument for removing the major impediment stalling a growth in production, which he said the sub-regional grouping, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), needed for social and economic development.
“The socio-economic transformation requires a rate of growth over five or seven per cent in ten years to double per capita incomes in the OECS,” Sir Dwight had said. “This rate of growth will be able to address the unemployment and poverty levels and maintain and improve the human development indices,” he added.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the economic and social mayhem that we are currently witnessing only serves to belie the very existence of a ‘Team Barbados’.
Amid seemingly unending industrial strife, the question must be asked, what has gone so very wrong with our great Social Partnership? Why are the very architects now seemingly at each other’s throats, with the umbrella Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados looking on helplessly and seemingly just waiting to pick up the carcasses to make arrangements for the inevitable Social Partnership funeral.
Indeed it would seem as though the casket has already been ordered. But the question still must be asked and answered: What was the understanding between Messrs Leroy Trotman (now Sir Roy), Owen Arthur and John Stanley (Sir John) who had constituted the tripartite leadership of the day, and why does it no longer exist between Akanni McDowall, Toni Moore, Freundel Stuart and Charles Herbert?
Could we be witnessing the ill effects of a nasty beer-drinking contest at a time when our country needs its leaders to be united in a common mission to develop and elevate Barbados?
Certainly it cannot be a matter of like or dislike since the previous leaders were as much revered, as they were hated, but that certainly did not stop them from meeting to thrash out their differences for the sake of the country and ultimately in the interest of the national good.
Protests always come and go, but never before have we had a situation like the one we are currently facing in which our unions can’t be guaranteed an audience with our Prime Minister, and over such an important matter as dreaded taxation.
After weeklong protest action in the form of a go-slow, followed by a public sector sick-out that is expected to escalate next week into a national march with members of the private sector on board, we can only hope and pray that common sense will somehow prevail and that all sides can display a definite willingness to place national interests above all else.
For with our Social Partnership currently in shambles, it is little wonder that the economy is also down in the dumps.