Fearless, unapologetic, and prepared to offend in the name of righteousness.
That’s the nature of the man Caswell Franklyn, the Opposition Senator, trade union leader and all-round disruptor to the status quo in Barbados during the year 2020.
He has been in the fight for workers’ rights for decades, operating at ground zero as an industrial relations specialist with the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) in the 1990s and early 2000s. In fact, his no-nonsense approach often found him at loggerheads with the leadership of the NUPW.
A skilled negotiator and debater, Franklyn is known for taking a stand and is willing to defend it, even if it means it will result in personal loss or disadvantage.
With his own dissatisfaction with the trade union movement, he launched the Unity Workers’ Union (UWU) as a one-man show. But 2020 could easily be described as the year Franklyn shone, just as workers and observers were questioning the relevance and impact of trade unions in a changing industrial relations landscape in Barbados.
Like a David prepared to take on any Goliath, Franklyn demonstrated that he was the man who would take it to whomever in 2020 – from the Prime Minister to fellow union leaders.
His verbal battles in the Senate Chamber meant that the sleepy Upper Chamber that hardly competed for attention with the Lower House of MPs became required listening and reading for political observers and regular citizens.
He has kept the Government benches in the Senate busy, never allowing them to become complacent in their advantage of numbers.
The Party for Democracy and Development’s spokesperson on industrial relations and labour law has ruffled quite a few features in the Senate when he blasted the Mia Mottley-led administration for its double standard on the issue of her Cabinet size.
At a press conference in May, the Senator made it clear that any thoughts about cutting the salaries of public service employees to ease Government’s expenditure trouble during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic should be abandoned, as public officers had long waited almost a decade for an increase in their salaries. And with their home mortgages, vehicle loans and other expenses, Franklyn insisted these workers had no wiggle room.
“Ask the Government, tell them please to stay away from the civil servants’ salaries – they can’t afford a cut because a lot of them are right to the edge,” he said.
“So they don’t have any money, they don’t have a cushion; civil servants don’t have a cushion. But I can tell you who has a cushion . . . . Using Ms Mottley’s pre-Prime Minister mouthings, she said that the Freundel Stuart Cabinet was 17 people and that was five more than Barbados needed. Well, if under Freundel the country needed 12 ministers, why she thinks she needs 26? So she can start there,” the Opposition Senator said during a press conference in May.
He added: “I am all for that – cut some of them because they are falling over each other to find something to do. There is not enough work, especially when you have two ministers in a ministry – which, by the way, is unconstitutional because the Constitution does not allow you to have two ministers in one ministry.”
It was in the Senate Chamber that Franklyn would cause what became a national uproar when he condemned then newly appointed Minister of Tourism and Government Senator Lisa Cummins.
He gave the young Senator a dressing down before walking out the Chamber for her in-person appearance during a debate when she was expected to be still serving a period of quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19-infected nurses from Ghana whom she met at the Grantley Adams International Airport days earlier.
While Senate President Sir Richard Cheltenham read a letter from Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George stating that Cummins was cleared to join after a negative test, Franklyn and some other Senators were having none of it.
Franklyn and Independent Senator Monique Taitt both objected, while Senator Cristopher Maynard said he was in the group of high-risk persons and reserved the right to make the decision for himself.
“This isn’t 14 days yet and if she [Senator Cummins] comes, I gone! Cause I am not staying in here with somebody who they told to stay in quarantine. You want to pass a Bill and you will bring the lame and the blind and everybody inside here. This is foolishness,” he lashed out.
Franklyn’s position, though it appeared harsh, ended with Senator Cummins offering an apology to her Senate colleagues in a nationally-televised address.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Senator Franklyn accepted her apology, saying he was glad that she had seen the “error” in her ways.
“She was clearly wrong and it was the honourable and decent thing to do and she did it, and for that she will have my respect,” he noted.
The long-time St Thomas resident was to have one of his biggest blow-ups this year with none other than the Prime Minister. And again, Franklyn won the public relations battle as many disagreed with the position the Prime Minister adopted in the war of words during the St George North by-election campaign.
While Franklyn blasted Barbados Workers’ Union General Secretary Toni Moore for becoming a candidate for the ruling Barbados Labour Party (BLP), Mottley attacked Franklyn for his “hypocrisy”.
“I know that the only union that I have ever had to . . . take money from the Barbados Labour Party’s resources and to help, not because we wanted to be invidious, but because they needed it . . . and so committed are we to the workers’ rights that I [gave instructions] to pay the rent for the Unity Trade Union for the first few months of its existence.
“I never gave the [Barbados] Workers’ Union any money or Toni Moore or Leroy Trotman. I have come to them to help us. [Franklyn] came to us for a handout and a help up,” the Prime Minister disclosed.
But in a swift response, Franklyn explained that he received only $400 to assist with some personal bills when he was unemployed a number of years ago. However, he was adamant that he had received no money from the BLP to help his UWU.
“That wasn’t a rebuttal. That is being nasty, and it is untrue. Mia Mottley never gave the Unity Workers’ Union a cent,” he said.
Apart from suggesting that he was offered a high profile job by the administration in order to keep him quiet, Franklyn added: “As a matter of fact, Unity Workers’ Union operated from my living room for the first five years of its existence, so we didn’t need rent. I only started paying rent in 2015 when I got an office in Bridgetown.”
“[The $400] came from a foundation that [Pat Parris] told me that she was responsible for, that helps people who are having difficulties. I had difficulties as a member of the Barbados Labour Party. It didn’t have anything to do with Unity. That is a lie, and it was $400 only. That is the only money I have ever received from Pat Parris in my life and that was to help me with my bills when I was unemployed. That is the truth, and nothing but,” he added.
As the year ends, Franklyn remains for many Barbadians one of the remaining hopes for the ordinary man in his fight on the industrial relations front. For the Government, he remains a thorn in their political side, outing the administration on any missteps in matters of labour and major political dealings.
He calls for a reduction in the number of consultants to Government, keeps the NUPW and the BWU on their toes, and is a vociferous advocate for the “small man”. For that, he is assigned as the newsmaker of 2020.