During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the country was forced to go on lockdown, employees and employers alike were eager to get back to the workplace. Steady income and profits were needed for their survival.
We have heard from former Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes, in his final report before leaving the position, that we are still not yet out of the woods and money needs to keep rolling over in business places across Barbados, on a consistent and sustained basis, if we are to see significant economic growth.
We have now reached a stage where we can safely say that we are past the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to shutdowns and business closures. However, as we attempt to put the horrors of the costly pandemic behind us, industrial unease has surfaced in the country.
While the reasons for the three most recent strikes are varied, in all those cases the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) is the employees’ representative.
Has the BWU lapsed and not been keeping a keen eye on the happenings within its membership, leaving many unresolved issues?
In each dispute, we can hear the leadership of the union point to the fact that the issues dated back several years.
The first strike, which crippled the country’s public transport system, caused schools to close on Monday, January 23. That action at the Transport Board, which had the support of the BWU, was due to matters that had remained unresolved.
According to general secretary Toni Moore, nothing or little had been done since the last meeting with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Transport, management and the union in May 2022.
But the union and Transport Board agreed to work towards a resolution of outstanding issues in the weeks to come.
In a statement this week, the union said that while the Transport Board’s management had not yet been able to close out all the outstanding issues, it had given the assurance an attempt would be made to investigate all matters to find a resolution in the shortest time possible.
“The executive council is pleased that arising out of the meeting, we have made significant progress with respect to the health and safety concerns which were raised on January 23rd,” Moore said.
On Tuesday, a pay dispute between workers and management at Duty Free Caribbean resulted in strike action.
The BWU said the company had reneged on a promise made as part of an agreement with the union to give the employees a lump sum payment last December.
The union was kept busy as upset United Commercial Autoworks Limited (UCAL) employees staged a work stoppage the following day.
The BWU told the media that it had been patient with management for about four years. The workers’ grievances span several years and were compounded by management’s lack of response.
“There are a number of proposals that were submitted by the union as far back as April 2019. Most of these proposals were settled, but even in some areas where settlement has been reached, the settlement has not been applied. . . . Currently, 20 outstanding grievances are on the table, many of them relating to health and safety and allowances and conditions and situations surrounding assignments where workers are being apportioned blame and assignments not given in a favourable enough way that the workers can undertake the work that has been given to them and yet they’re being blamed,” Moore said.
But with so many cases of “outstanding issues”, the question has to be asked why matters are being allowed to fester for so long that workers eventually have to walk off the job to be heard and for action to be taken.
We would rather there be harmony in the industrial climate.
However, when it cannot be that way, we welcome the agitation for a better working environment for employees which will ultimately lead to a successful business and profits for the employer.