by Marlon Madden
As Barbadians emerge from what could be considered the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials of at least one major trade union are keeping a close eye on several new trends that are developing within the workplace environment. General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) Toni Moore disclosed that some tourism operators were seeking to change terms and conditions associated with some positions
as they rehire workers that were laid off during the height of the pandemic.
She also explained that companies across a range of sectors who previously allowed their employees to work remotely over the two-year period are caught in a balancing act as some workers are finding it to be too expensive to continue to work from home while other workers want to continue.
As such, Moore told Today’s BUSINESS that the BWU has already started negotiations with some firms, while noting that those were just two of the major trends being observed as the labour force return to what can be considered normal operations.
“There is a trend where there are a large number of workers who still want to maintain the possibility of working at home and on the flip side of that there are some people who would have recognised significant costs associated with having to work at home,” said Moore.
“That is one of the dynamics we are trying to balance as a union – how do you address that nuance situation where in the same work environment you may have people at the two ends of the spectrum. So that is where the backward negotiation, talking to our workers and then as we present proposals, trying to make remote work something that is not mandatory but voluntary, where companies can accommodate it. That is one of the major areas,” she explained.
As it relates to the tourism industry, Moore recalled that the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic resulted in mass layoffs and some termination of workers as tourism related businesses closed their doors. By mid-2021, officials estimated that some 40,000 people were directly and indirectly affected by the dramatic reduction in tourism arrivals to the island.
Moore said as businesses in the industry reopen and rehire staff and take on new workers, the BWU was preparing to “relook how we organise workers”, as she hinted that terms of conditions of employment for some of them were being tweaked, leaving them with less benefits and job security.
“You would recall that during COVID a number of workers accepted packages either mandatorily or voluntarily, and rebuilding now there is every possibility as workers are reengaged in the industry, they are not engaged at the same level of terms and conditions that were previously provided,” said Moore.
“So we know that we have our work cut out for us, and it is manifesting itself already as large numbers of workers are being engaged on contracts. So on contracts therefore, reducing the level of security,” she said.
Recently, Minister of Tourism and International Transport Senator Lisa Cummins and executives of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association confirmed that there was a labour shortage facing the tourism industry, with many of the workers that were laid off during the height of the pandemic opting not to return.
While they were unable to say exactly why the workers were not returning, they have indicated that work had started with several local institutions to help fast track training opportunities for those who are interested in working in the industry.
Moore said the BWU was committed to continuing the fight for workers so they can have decent work. She also noted that the BWU was engaging some private sector firms in salary negotiations as the cost of living continues to rise and those companies report healthy profits.