Minister of Labour Colin Jordan has suggested that employers in the tourism sector may have to take some of the blame for the current labour shortage in the industry, after seemingly abandoning workers when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged two years ago.
And he has urged them to “pick sense” from the current state of affairs and adjust how they engage with workers.
Just under two weeks ago, Minister of Tourism Lisa Cummins disclosed that efforts were being made to address a possible labour shortage by some tourism operators, even as the industry’s performance rebounded from the height of the pandemic that saw an estimated 35 000-plus workers in the industry going on the breadline.
Tourism employs about one-third of Barbados’ workforce.
Contributing to debate on the Airport Service Charge Bill, 2022 in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, Jordan said 2020 was “a poster child for the narrow approach of some leaders in the tourism industry to
their businesses and to the industry generally”.
“In 2020, when the industry came to a grinding halt at the end of March, it was quite evident that employers in the tourism industry – based on what could be seen – abandoned their workers. That is what appeared to all of us. I say to the industry that I still love and that I still sometimes consider myself to be part of, that you cannot appear to abandon your workers and then expect that when things pick back up, they are gonna be there sitting down or standing waiting for you,” said the former member of the labour relations committee of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA).
“This is not the Barbados of the pre-emancipation period, this is not the Barbados of the immediate post-emancipation period. This is not the Barbados of the pre-independence period. This is a 21st century Barbados, this is a time that there is a rising consciousness among people that they don’t have to put up with what they don’t want to put up with.
“And so, I want to use this opportunity, speaking now as the minister responsible for workers and their protection in this country to say to all employers pick sense from what is happening in the tourism industry,” cautioned Jordan.
He insisted that industrial relations in Barbados must become a partnership in which workers are seen not just as labour but as true partners.
“Too often I see – and this is not limited to the private sector [because] I see it too much in the public sector as well – this fear, this dislike for engaging with trade unions,” lamented Jordan who prior to being a member of government helped lead negotiations for the BHTA and the tourism industry with workers’ representatives.
“I want to say to employers across Barbados today, ‘the workers in your establishment are not the union’s workers’. I cannot tire of saying this because I have not yet gotten through to as many employers as I ought to. The workers in your establishment are your workers, they are your partners, they are the ones who are joining with your money or the land or the equipment that you’ve put into the equation to help you to earn some profits.
“Your workers who allow you to make profits have to be seen as partners in the enterprise,” the Labour Minister insisted as he called on employers across the country to “engage with their workers, engage with the organisations that represent your workers, engage in good faith”.
Meantime, Jordan called for the implementation of the tourism satellite account – a method of measuring the direct economic contributions of tourism consumption to an economy.
It is estimated that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) contribution of the sector is between 30 and 40 per cent.
“We need to know what the real contribution is. If we’re going to make good policy, the policy has to be based on good information. And I’m calling for the long-promised tourism satellite accounting so that we can accurately say what is the contribution of the sector to the economy,” Jordan told the House of Assembly.