Managing the tension
As tradition would have it, there is the observance of 12 days of Christmas. During this time greetings of peace and goodwill are extended. It is also the norm to convey New Year greetings and extend best wishes to those with whom you come into contact.
Those of us who were optimistic that peace and goodwill would have been the order of the 12 days of Christmas, and that 2013 would bring the best of good fortune, must be shell shocked at the industrial relations drama that has taken the island of Barbados by storm.
In 2012, Barbados experienced a relatively calm industrial relations climate. The smouldering industrial relations dispute at the Alexandra School that involves the principal and members of the teaching staff who are represented by the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, has suddenly reignited.
The issue of the transfer of teachers to and from the school has created some tension. On top of this, there is the dispute between the Barbados Workers’ Union and the telecommunication company, LIME, over the layoff of 97 employees.
These have become matters of national concern that have threatened the peace and industrial harmony Barbados enjoys. Added to these issues is the public discussion that has erupted following the disclosure of the resignation of the Deputy General Secretary of the BWU.
To some extent, these developments have in a way temporary directed the focus away from the ailing economy. Unfortunately, they may have done nothing to reduce attention to the upcoming national elections. The developments have aroused the trade union movement, as the leadership at all levels is forced to carefully monitor and study the implications which the issues hold for the industrial relations practice.
Whatever the outcome is in each of the disputes, it is expected that the parties will act with maturity, sensibly and responsibly, as they work to bring about resolution to the issues that divide them.
Looking ahead, it is in the national interest that Barbados maintains industrial peace. This would allow the country to benefit from the productivity of the workforce. The fewer industrial relations disputes that are recorded will certainly serve the best interest of the country.
Industrial action could be avoided if Government as the main employer and private sector employers observe and respect the rights and entitlements of workers, respect workers and their representative trade unions and staff associations, follow best practices in the management and engagement of workers, and observe the principles, practices and procedures that govern good industrial relations practice.
Workers could also contribute to the industrial peace by being responsible, demonstrating a commitment to observing the rules and regulations of the workplace, meeting workplace standards and living up to the requirements and expectations of the collective bargaining agreement. It stands to reason that employers should also be held accountable for meeting what is required and expected of them under the respective collective bargaining agreement.
In hard economic times, it is likely that industrial action in any form can adversely impact upon an already ailing economy. Employers should be sensitive to this and therefore do all that is humanly possible to eliminate any incidence of industrial action that is likely to occur.
In most cases when industrial action is taken, it comes as a result of the failure of the employer to listen to reason or to entertain suggestions, to entertain discussion on a matter, and resorting to act in an arbitrary manner. It is a consequence of such action(s), that employees are driven to take some form of industrial action.
If industrial peace and harmony is to be maintained, then employers and employees have a joint responsibility to work together, and to create a workplace climate that promotes open lines of communication, and establishes a relationship which allows for the participation of employees in the decision making process.
* Dennis De Peiza is a Labour Management Consultant with Regional Management Services Inc.
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