Long live the trade union movement in Barbados! It has been and hopefully will continue to be the unfailing and uncompromised saviour of the working class in Barbados.
To exalt the work of the trade unions in Barbados is not to suggest that they are perfect or bereft of room for improvement. It is to simply state the fact that without the unions, many more ordinary working people in Barbados would be without a tangible means to have their voices noted and their issues remedied.
The trade union movement in Barbados has recently undergone an intentional campaign of fake news and propaganda. I suspect that historical comparative analysis would reveal that the media used may be different but this may be a traditional method of destabilization used against the union.
What seems to be new and alarming to me is the ease with which the public is imbibing the fake news and their willingness to reel against the very union which is fighting to protect workers. There is an attempt to discredit current union leaders as hasty, cantankerous and ill-meaning. Where one time the public of Barbados weighed accusations against evidence, there seems to be a willingness to join the ‘gang’ on the anti-union side.
Many Barbadians were ready to join the management and board at the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to label the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) as unreasonable in their request for increments due to staff to be paid. A fundamental part of the misunderstanding over the issue is the local connotation of the word ‘increment’. In the Barbadian reality, an increment paid is associated with the incentive raise that most public service workers will get every year until they reach their top salary scale bar.
The increment demand being made and agreed to by the CBC in this case is not that yearly incentive payment. The increment in this case is actually a penalty payment being made for inefficiencies in the CBC administrative structure which hindered an agreed performance appraisal not being conducted. The performance appraisal was to be the mechanism used to evaluate workers’ contributions to the Corporation and what was an appropriate incentive return.
Since the fault of the performance appraisals not being done was not at the employees, it was reasonable for the union to request an in lieu penalty payment. Further from this being reasonable, the union was able to secure an agreement with the CBC. In the opinion of the BWU, it was CBC’s perceived renege on the agreement which caused the impasse.
That is the matter for which the union and the board of management have to be judged for their reasonableness or otherwise. All other facts introduced to the discussion are peripheral. Sometimes it takes smaller and more familiar examples to drive home the real issues in matters to the public.
If you go to a bank and take a loan, it is calculated on your current circumstance and your ability to pay. Four years down the line, the economy changes and you are working three days instead of five. It would be in your best interest to return to the bank and have a conversation with them to see if they are willing to readjust your payment. What you however cannot do is to tell the bank that you are now bankrupt and cannot honour their agreement. Further, the bank cannot just take up a possession of yours which was not set against the debt you took and sell it to reclaim its money.
None of this can be done because agreements between parties are not arbitrary, even if we understand that circumstances can change. The first thing which has to happen between you and the bank when your circumstance changes is that you both reach further accommodation until the original agreement can be reached. In the same way, the first thing that has to happen with CBC and the BWU is that CBC has to show willingness to acknowledge the agreement met.
When you visit the bank, you also cannot expect that they will be willing to accommodate you indefinitely. Likewise, CBC cannot return to the bargaining table and state that it is experiencing hardship unless they can provide a strategy for remedying that hardship and returning the status quo.
A few of the peripheral pieces of information also caught my eye in the peripheral heap of information provided. The staff of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation is well over 250. Even as I have no intimate knowledge about the functioning of the company on a day to day basis, I wonder how much of that number of staff is the complement needed by the administrative structure of the Corporation and if any of them could just be staff padded in for political benefit.
The Corporation is threatening layoffs as a possible result of what they perceive as the ‘push’ of the union. It seems to me that the size of the staff at the CBC may be based on an old model of broadcasting and that restructuring is necessary to curb their loss making and make them competitive. This seems like an inevitable course of action whether the staff fight for the agreement to be honoured or not and the management of CBC may be using a good media wicket to bowl some spin!
This question brings us to the frank confession that the CBC is a state-owned entity which has had politics spill over into its functioning for years. The Corporation suggests that it has no money to honour the agreement reached. However, it retains freelance staff who run programmes which are perceived to be heavily pro-party-in-power. Is this an acceptable state of affairs? In the context where we are losing state assets by sale because of our fiscal position, should we sell a national oil company or hotels before the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation?
The other queries which were raised in my mind is why it seems to be taking CBC so long to implement a performance appraisal system which could actually assist them in them reversing their financial position. One of the benefits of performance appraisal is that it raises the standards of outputs and obliquely improves customer service. It also cues workers into the fact that the success of the company is directly tied to the profit position of the company.
Without the seeming effort of the management to bring the performance appraisal on stream, it would be reasonable for the workers and their representatives to ask for a detailed outline of the five year plan for the Corporation. It is clear that there is an intentional onslaught of communicative manipulation which the union movement in Barbados is up against. The unions must now find a match for the strategy and press on with their business.