Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Charles Herbert has flatly rejected suggestions that the business community had threatened social unrest if Prime Minister Freundel Stuart did not hold talks with the unions and the private sector ahead of a scheduled August 18 meeting of the Social Partnership.
Speaking at a luncheon of the Democratic Labour Party’s Christ Church West Branch at the Almond Bay Hotel Sunday Stuart said he was told “to meet or to schedule a meeting in order to avert social unrest, which is a coded way of saying, ‘if you don’t meet there will be social unrest’”.
However, Herbert told Barbados TODAY nothing could be further from the truth, adding that Monday’s march also had nothing to do with politics or race, as some had suggested.
“That is just so far from the truth. Today speaks for itself. There is no unrest, there is nothing illegal, this is a peaceful standing together,” Herbert said.
The private sector leader refused to respond to claims that the partnership with the trade unions for the march was a form of “undisguised blackmail”, or that he was being unreasonable.
However, Herbert said the turnout of an estimated 20,000 was a clear indication that people supported the call for more dialogue, which was simply what the private sector has been requesting from the very beginning.
“We will sit back and see who listens, but I think we know now what numbers support . . . what we are saying.
“I am very impressed with all the people from all spheres of life who have showed up today. I think the numbers speak for themselves and I would like to thank everybody who made the effort to come and make a statement and stand with us. This was a day of solidarity and it was peaceful and exactly what we said it would be – a peaceful march for dialogue. Not political and not racial, just a peaceful march of people,” Herbert insisted.
Asked what was next for the private sector following Monday’s march should the Prime Minister still not budge, Herbert would only say “no comment”.
“We have stated our numbers and that is it,” he added.
General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union Toni Moore did not add any clarity to the next steps, stating that they all were exploring “a number of things but . . . it is one step at a time for us.
“We now have to regroup. We believe that when the people have spoken that there should be a point of reflection and we are still being confident that the Prime Minister, in respect of everything that he would have said yesterday, will take a second look at what he saw today, understanding fully what that means and respond appropriately. That is really our hope.”
Other private sector participants, including prominent businessman Ralph Bizzy Williams also dismissed suggestions that the coalition of public sector and trade unions had anything to do with race or a move to overthrow the Freundel Stuart administration.
Williams told Barbados TODAY he and his group of companies took part in the march “simply to ask the Prime Minister to sit with the Social Partners soon”.
Monday’s march was organized by the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers, in association with the BPSA, in an effort to force Government to the negotiation table.
Williams, who said he had received several messages accusing him of “everything” within the last 24-hours leading up to the march, said he had no political agenda. What is more, the businessman said he feared that if Government did not meet the demands of the unions and the private sector for talks the country could shut down.
“They can call it whatever they like, there is no race card in me. I am not here to deal with any race issue. I am here because I love my country and I don’t think you could accuse me of not liking black people or anything so because our company [Williams Group] is 900-strong and 99.8 per cent is probably black and a lot of them are shareholders.
“I am here only because I do not want Barbados to be shut down by industrial action if we can possibly avoid it. Sit down and talk to each other and try to reach some kind of a settlement. I respect the Government and I respect the Prime Minister. The Government is here to make policy, but listen to the people a little bit. You don’t have to give back everything but give them something to hold on to because things hard out there. That is my feeling,” he said.
Chief Executive Officer of the Small Business Association Lynette Holder described as propaganda, any suggestion that the march was racially motivated or designed to bring down the Government.
“I have seen small, I have seen medium, white and black because at the end of the day this is a national issue. Those who sought to suggest otherwise are ill informed. The reality is that Barbadians are simply frustrated and fed-up because of the kind of lack of governance that we have had in this country for the last few years. We are accustomed to our leaders engaging us in dialogue, engaging us in consultation relative to the direction of the country.
“Imagine two-thirds of the Social Partnership coming together and saying, ‘we cannot continue in this vein of there not being regular consultation’. Look across other developing states and developed states, on a quarterly basis at minimum you would see heads of the various sectoral interests meeting to discuss and thrash out issues and chart the way forward. That has not been the case here . . . So what we are seeing here really is the demonstration of people who are frustrated because of that lack of consultation. That is all the two groups here are calling for,” Holder said. [email protected]