The local trade union movement has come under heavy fire from a retired veteran in the field, who made the charge that recent actions of the two major unions do not inspire confidence that the future of labour advocacy is in good hands.
Delivering the Astor B Watts lunchtime lecture at the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) headquarters in George Street, Robert Bobby Morris, highlighted a long list of concerns, which in his view, raised questions about the direction and focus of the labour movement. Neither the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) nor the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) escaped from his scathing criticism, in which he painted a picture of organisations experiencing a crisis of leadership.
According to Morris, a former deputy general secretary of the BWU, the recent decision by the NUPW executive not to renew the contract of their General Secretary Roslyn Smith who was hospitalised since last December, is not in keeping with the image of an organisation with strong leadership.
“I am concerned that the general secretary is on her sick bed and we don’t know if she has a job or not. All women would sympathise with her, regardless of what their politics are. For a woman to be on her sick bed and is being threatened with dismissal from a workers’ organisation cannot look good. I don’t care what anybody tell me. It is a signal of where we are,” said Morris.
He added, “I am not being overly critical, but the National Union of Public Workers needs to regroup because the persons that remain are not the youngest. They need to find leadership that is suited for today’s time, today’s technology and today’s vision.”
Last month, Barbados TODAY was reliably informed by sources close to the organisation that the executive body of the largest public sector trade union had opted not to extend Smith’s contract, which expired on March 31.
Smith is recovering from an undisclosed illness and has been receiving treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) since last December. She had submitted a request for a leave extension in a letter dated March 15. At the time, union president Akanni McDowall said a decision on the matter should be deferred to the union’s incoming executive committee and national council.
Another source explained to Barbados TODAY that while a new national council is yet to be formed, the executive of the NUPW took the decision not to renew the contract.
However, Morris made it clear that it was not only the NUPW that was raising eyebrows, but the BWU was also veering from the tradition of being the collective backbone of the working man. In illustrating his point, Morris questioned his former employer’s recent decision to back away from their members’ calls for the removal of chairman of the Barbados Water Authority (BWA), Leodeane Worrell.
Earlier this week, BWA workers made it clear that they wanted to see the back of Worrell, following a breakdown in industrial relations at the state-owned company. But while accusing the board of meddling in personnel matters at the BWA, the union urged its members to hold strain and allow the authority to demonstrate that it would allow the management to “manage”.
However, Morris raised the query as to whose mandate the BWU was following.
“What is bothering me is that the General Secretary of the BWU is telling the public that her people wanted this woman removed and she said no. The union that I was a part of did not operate that way. If your members say to get rid of that chairman, unless you go to your executive council to get them to change that, it is a horrible thing you are saying when you tell your workers that you don’t care what they want. What is so sacrosanct about a chairperson? This is not a person that is employed by the organisation,” he stressed. [email protected]