The leaders of the island’s four major trade unions – the Barbados Workers’ Union (BUT), the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) – have taken umbrage to statements by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made during a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) luncheon Sunday.
The Prime Minister had suggested that there were elements in the country who were bent on removing the DLP from office, ahead of the constitutional deadline next year.
Among the leaders taking issue was BSTU President Mary Redman, who said while the unions wanted Stuart to meet to discuss the vexing National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL), there was no interest in bringing down the administration.
“This is about making them understand that they have failed miserably at going it alone and that they have to again include the Social Partners to help bring this country out of the economic morass into which we have been led,” Redman told protesters at the end of Monday’s march, which attracted an estimated 20,000 demonstrators.
“The references of the PM [Stuart] yesterday . . . to the mongoose and the chicken are so irrelevant and out of context in this situation where we are looking for dialogue and consultation because in the end, all that both those creatures want to do is to get across the road successfully without being crushed,” she said in reference to Stuart’s comparison of the “new found fellowship” between unions and the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) to a cat and a mouse enjoying “fellowship in the same space”, as well as a “lamb and a lion lying down together” and a “mongoose and a chicken together”.
“The lion and the lamb both want space, but perfection would allow them to live together . . . and that is what we seek in our ailing country, . . . the opportunity to live and to work together in a way that would benefit us all,” the BSTU head opined.
Redman made reference to 1991 when some 20,000 Barbadians marched against austerity measures imposed by the then Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) administration.
The industrial relations unrest then led to the birth of the Social Partnership, which now seems under threat by similar economic conditions.
“It came out of a situation back in 1991 that was very similar to the difficulties being experienced today. But there was a different approach then. The Government then recognized that they were in crisis and so groups and heads from different sectors of this society were pulled together, meetings were held all over this country with critical stakeholders, there was dialogue and consultation . . . inclusion and cooperation and we survived and built a Social Partnership that was the envy of the world.
“Today the same groups want to assist the cause, they want to cooperate and collaborate and together try to find solutions to bring us out of our dire situation. A situation that is so very much worse financially and socially than in 1991 and our efforts are brushed aside,” Redman said.
The BSTU boss, who stood on crutches as she made her presentation, queried Government’s motives stating that instead of working with and including the unions in the same manner as in 1991, “we are accused of all sorts of nefarious motives and activities . . . including the recent frantic and despicable example by a statesmen in this country Ambassador Bobby Morris, that I contrived to twist my ankle, tear up the ligaments and put myself in great pain.
“But the latest [accusation] is the attempt by the Prime Minister to imply to Barbados that the unions seemed to have struck some secret deal with him in relation to a pay increase in September but yet we are here marching . . . in an effort at collusion with the private sector towards social unrest,” Redman said.
Her sentiments were shared by BWU General Secretary Toni Moore, who spoke of Stuart’s reference to the biblical story of Esau and Jacob as he urged Barbadians not to be misled by the unions and the BPSA.
“When I hear scriptures being used conveniently, I know that is generally a tactic of those who are floundering to appeal to the senses of people who have a spiritual upbringing,” Moore said.
Drawing reference to the functioning of the Social Partnership, the BWU leader lamented that while it had been touted internationally, it has now been reduced to an institution that was “under functioning and underperforming.
“In the union we say [it takes two] hands to clap, but in the Social Partnership, it takes three pairs of hands to clap. Today we have two pairs of hands clapping and we have the other pair of hands telling you that we have no right participating in matters that impact us . . . that we should leave the principle decisions that will govern us, and the principle decisions that will determine our future to a few who make up the Cabinet,” she said.
“We reject that we must mute our voice so that Cabinet and only the Cabinet of Barbados can influence our lives; make decisions to influence our lives.”
Moore also lamented that it took the intervention of the private sector for Stuart to agree to dialogue with the Social Partners.
She said the unions had written to the Prime Minister on three separate occasions requesting meaningful dialogue, but he had not responded, but agreed to meet when the business community demanded talks.
“The private sector wrote two Fridays ago, asking for a response by the following Monday, one business day later by 4:30 [p.m.]. It is my understanding that they didn’t get by 4:30 [p.m.], but they got it later that night.
“You as the workers of Barbados have to understand for yourself what this says to you, because when you don’t respond to Toni Moore it’s not a personal thing . . . . When you don’t respond to me, you have failed every single one of my members, even the ones who are yours,” the union boss stressed.
She said the movement remained concerned, but more so saddened, that all “of a sudden the unions and the private sector could together stir up some form of reaction”, but workers by themselves could not.