The island’s trade unions are being told that the time has come for them to abandon the practice of strict demands for pay rises and focus instead on reform.
In taking a shot at the unions’ tactics in wage negotiations, former trade unionist Robert Bobby Morris introduced the concept of “interest-based bargaining”, which he said is more productive than the current method that labour leaders employ where they demand a certain percentage increase and stick to their position.
It is a concept he learned at Harvard University, Morris said, and one which moves negotiations away from the “me versus you, let’s fight and tear up” approach to a focus on reform.
“The issue is not so much about laying off people. It is about how do you restructure. It is how you restructure the public sector to make it more competitive and how do you do the same thing with the private sector. It is critical, it is fundamental that our minds must be on measuring, evaluating and reporting,” he told a Ministry of Finance-organized panel discussion today on the topic, Development: Does it Build a Society?
He told those gathered at the Courtyard by Marriott in Hastings, Christ Church for the event, which formed part of the ministry’s annual lecture series, he had put the concept into practice and it proved successful.
“That interest based bargaining started out by saying we are not fighting about position – ten per cent versus two per cent or no percentage increases at all versus whatever – we weren’t interested in positions, we were interested in issues. What were the important issues before us and what were the answers needed within the particular context, not positions with somebody saying, ‘I want ten per cent and I must get ten per cent. If I don’t get ten per cent nothing is going on,’” Morris explained.
His comments came as the island’s largest public sector trade union, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and Government resumed protracted and sometimes bitter wage negotiations today.
The NUPW has been pressuring the Freundel Stuart administration for over a year, for a 23 per cent wage hike, while its sister union, the Barbados Workers’ Union, said it would be pushing for a 15 per cent increase for its members.
NUPW President Akanni McDowall has insisted that public sector workers deserve an increase since they have not had one in nearly a decade.
However, Government has repeatedly said it could not afford an increase, although a “coping subsidy” was offered to the workers when the two sides met today.
Morris did not make any reference to the ongoing negotiations, but he warned that when employers “give what they really can’t give because they call it a compromise”, it could sometimes turn out to be “just as damaging as the extreme they are asking you for because you are looking at positions, positional bargaining”.
Meanwhile, the former teacher complained that Barbadians depend too heavily on Government to take the lead on developmental issues, resulting in the island being “far behind time” on some of those practices.
He described this as a “hierarchical and horizontal static model” which places too much emphasis on political will and politican leaders.
“That is why they say start with the Government, the political will, and sometimes you say even the Prime Minister and then the other 20 things will follow. You are wrong. That is what I call the hierarchical and horizontal static model.” Morris said, adding that his preference was for the concentric circular model, which focuses on social structures, “and that is why I believe in the Social Partnership”.
The former trade unionist argued that in order to further develop the country Barbadians must change their mindset and stop being motivated by negativity.
He also weighed in on the controversial topic of the removal of the Nelson statue, saying Barbadians should engage instead in discussions about what political direction the country should take.
“Nelson is passé. He will be removed, not because of a reaction of one or two [people] but because of a positive move in another direction in terms of where our nation should be going, and that is in terms of a republic status basically,” Morris argued.
The defacement of the statue on the day before Independence Day this year reignited the emotional debate over whether or not the sculpture of the British naval hero should be moved to another location. [email protected]