“Take away from me the noise of thy songs, for I will not hear the music of thy viols
But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream,” (Amos, 5 vs 23, 24).
I am not in the habit of making New Year’s resolutions, but at this, the start of a new decade, I feel constrained to declare my resolve to pursue the cause of social justice. I will do so as chairman of the Anglican Commission on Advocacy, Justice and Social Responsibility, but also as a citizen of Barbados. On this occasion, I write in my personal capacity.
Now, I am not unmindful of the fiscal and other challenges attendant on an IMF programme; however, no programme should be at the expense of the legitimate needs of people. Meeting economic targets is pointless if social conditions in the society deteriorate.
For many years, there have been concerns expressed by unions and the Nurses Association regarding the extraordinarily long delay in paying new teachers, nurses and other public officers. Why, in an age of technology, would it take two and three months for workers to receive their salaries? Is the problem one of inefficiency, shortage of funds or lack of care for the plight of officers? It is totally unacceptable for workers to be denied the means of satisfying their social and economic needs.
Employees are not asking for favours; they are demanding reward for their hard work. How can we sleep comfortably at night knowing that these brothers and sisters are reduced to the status of beggars and borrowers in order to go to work in the interest of our country? The BLP came to office promising that it would not be business as usual. It is time for the administration to move swiftly to put such nice sounding words into practice.
Still on the subject of payments, the Government needs to explain why student nurses are no longer paid a stipend for work they do at the QEH, District hospitals and Polyclinics as part of their practical programme. Too many of these trainees experience hardship in meeting the demands for sustenance and travel to and from their workplaces. We seem to be able to find money for all kinds of projects, some of doubtful value. Surely, it cannot break the treasury to resume giving student nurses their much deserved stipend.
Youth unemployment and underemployment are the banes of Western societies. In Barbados, the unemployment figure is above 30 per cent with very little evidence of being reduced in the short or medium term. I have found it painful to hear bright young men and women complain that after having adhered to the advice of their elders that a good education is the key to success, they now cannot find occupation, and if they do, the jobs are way below their aspirations and not in keeping with their qualifications.
We now have university graduates with upper second class honours working as cashiers at supermarkets and as sales clerks in Swan Street. For those readers who are tempted to argue that at least the youth are fortunate to find work, I would respond that no decent work is degrading. But I would also question the wisdom of spending exorbitant sums of money on students at Cave Hill, only for them to perform tasks which any reasonable secondary school graduate can do.
We are creating the conditions for frustration and anger which can be very explosive among an educated youth demographic. And the boring refrain that young people should explore “opportunities” for entrepreneurship is not a satisfactory response to their need to find gainful employment. Not many persons have the resources or aptitude to be entrepreneurs, unless we are limiting entrepreneurship to selling ackees, dunks and coconut water off the highway and at street corners. No offence meant to those earning a living in this way.
As I have stated many times in the past, our archaic educational system is not catering to the needs of a significant number of our children, and is producing quite a few young people who are ill-equipped for productive citizenship. Nothing short of transformation of the system will suffice, and we must also move with dispatch to undertake a manpower survey aimed at determining the needs of 21st century Barbados.
Government should then encourage students who want to pursue tertiary education to choose courses that will improve their chances of finding employment or creating employment for themselves. Allowing a limitless number of students to enroll in programmes which are saturated, simply to boast that the dream of free university education is, once again, being realised, is a waste of taxpayers money and will prove to be unsustainable.
Finally, an end needs to be brought to the seemingly unrestricted practice of granting permits to “import” teachers, construction workers with sophisticated titles and candlestick makers for positions which Barbadians can adequately fill. Too many establishments, especially hotels, are allowed to recruit managers and supervisory staff to the disadvantage of competent sons and daughters of the soil. It seems as though our citizens are doomed to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water in their own country.
All persons, interested in the development of Barbados, must pressure government to create and maintain an environment that is conducive to the achievement of social justice.
John Goddard, retired, but always an educator.