A few years ago there was a calypso called “Captain, the ship is sinking” and the unions are contributing to the downfall of the country. During the 1940’s thru the 1980’s unions worldwide were powerful, they had teeth and they would bite very hard. In those early days, the unions worldwide fought for the workers’ rights and in many cases where successful in defending the blue collar workers rights from unscrupulous employers.
Unions served their purposes then and in many cases destroyed many businesses in the process and in some cases, countries. Unions worldwide are practically nonexistent and no longer serve the purpose that it did in the earlier days. Those that are still around are just a figure head and they no longer have that power and teeth to bite but only growl.
The unions in Barbados lost their way in the early 90’s and similar to unions worldwide are no longer effective in carrying out their mandate. During the past few years, the unions have been unsuccessful in a number of negotiations with the private sector and especially within the public service. In the case of the government, it would appear that the union is in bed with the government, especially the Barbados workers union, because of all the political affiliation of some of its members.
In recent years, the union has been threatening to shut down the country over some very frivolous issues, where they did not have a foot to stand on. Very recently, the union threatened to shut down the country over an apology. I cannot fathom how a company can be closed and not functioning, and the union called a strike to have workers from that company that were laid off to be reinstated. It must be noted that all of this has taken place in the middle of the sugar crop, the very industry that this country depends on to earn foreign exchange for its survival. Can the union be serious? How can a union that purports to represent the worker want to destroy the workforce that the country depends on to bring in foreign exchange to run the country?
The government has contributed to the low productivity that exists in the public service and the unions over the years have encouraged it. This is quite evident with the workers that were laid off recently from the NCC, everybody can see for themselves that this group of workers hardly does any work. One would think that since they are always in view of the public eye that they would look busy on the job even if they were not working.
This is also the case in many a government department, the only difference is that they are not in view of the public eye. The public service is bottom heavy similar to the shape of a pear and with the low wages at the bottom. The main reason for this, is because every time an election is called; the politicians gives hundreds of people jobs just for their vote and this has been the case for many years with both administrations. On the other hand, the small top is loaded with the high salaries and which is never affected by the down turn in the economy and rising prices.
The current system that the government is using to cut employment will not solve this country financial problem. This will only continue to hurt the low income bracket while those at the top continue to live a life of luxury. This system will put Barbados back to the days of when there were only the poor and rich. Over the years, a middle class culture was created and now that is about to be eroded. The government had asked this nation for their recommendations and what the union should have been negotiating was for a four day work week in the Public Service across the board for all employees.
If this system had been implemented, the backlash would not have been so great, since it would have insured that every household would still have an income coming in; and the government would have been able to achieve their financial goals quicker than the current measures that they are currently pursuing. You have Permanent Secretaries and others making $144,000.00 annually plus the perks that are not being affected. There is an old saying, the poor will get poorer and the rich get richer.
The public service was due for a pay increase since 2008, which was frozen. The only pay increase was given a few years ago when the Chief Town Planner, Permanent Secretaries, their deputies were given a $10,000.00 pay increase to bring their salaries in commensurate with the job. Mean while, the rest of the public service salaries remained frozen, while the cost of living continued to rise at an alarming rate. Over the years, the unions have not represented the workers in their best interest as it would appear that there is more in the mortar than the pestle.
Like anything else, the union has out lived its life expectancy, it’s like an old lion that has lost its teeth due to old age, lost its bark and can only growl. These days the union is only growling and fighting for its own survival. The reason that they are fighting is for survival and hanging on a string is because of the blue collar worker. It is the blue collar worker that props up the union with their dues, without workers there is no union.
Although the unions do not command the same power as in the past, those at the top still have to fight in order to maintain their big salaries and perks. It is only for this reason that the unions are barking, because they know that the times has changed worldwide and that unions do not command that same type of power as in the past. It is only a matter of time before the unions become just a figure head and this will be because they would not have the numbers to prop them up as the unemployment rate in the public sector tapers off and most private sector companies do not have unionized workers. The reality of it is that without the blue collar worker who makes up the vast majority of the union, they will not be able to sustain the membership to run the union.
It’s only a matter of time before the unions in Barbados suffer the same fate as their counterparts worldwide.
Article by Wayne Cadogan