Let us reason
Dr Esther Byer wants more talk with unions
With threats of more industrial action by public sector unions, Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer is urging the trade unions to return to the bargaining table.
Suggesting that today’s protest over the forced retirement of some Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) workers was premature, Byer repeated an earlier assertion that while she respected the workers’ and their unions’ right to protest, she believed all avenues had not been exhausted.
“I really cannot see any justification for even escalating it further by any involvement of other parties without the proper consultation,” Byer told the media on the sidelines of the launch of Occupational Safety and Health Week at the Accra Beach hotel this morning, as protesters marched through The City.
“This strike, is it to prove that we can strike? But that is enshrined in the law. You can strike, but there is usually a process that says we talk. And the consultation has been only at domestic level. Yes, they met with Minister [of Industry and Commerce Donville] Inniss, but that is the minister responsible for the BIDC so that is still at domestic level. They haven’t carried it any further than that. They need to do that. And I urge them to do that,” she said.
When contacted Inniss said he had no comments.
Byer said she believed “at the end of the day we still are going to have to come sit down and consult in order to get this problem resolved”.
“We have to come back to the table, and it is not as if this strike is an effort to bring the parties to the table, because there has been no effort. Nobody has asked the Chief Labour Officer –– and that is his area of expertise –– to bring the parties to the table,” pointed out Byer.
“I respect the rights of the workers to do what is in their power and I respect the work that is being done by unions also to get what is fair and just for workers. But I think that usually a strike action is later down the programme. We haven’t talked enough,” she insisted.
The Minister said the authorities had invited the various parties back to the negotiating table but no one had taken up the offer.
“So I think clearly that there is more of an interest in the strike than there is an interest in coming to have a chat,” she said.
Asked if she would be reaching on the trade unions again Byer said: “no, I think at this point they know of our willingness and . . . that we are interested in talking. I don’t know that I will be calling again, but my office is opened, the Chief Labour Officer has indicated that his office is opened, the Prime Minister has indicated that he is willing to talk as well.
“But if the parties need to be able to do this to let off some steam so they can sit and talk, if that is what gets us back to the table then I hope it is successful in that regard,” she added.
Chief Labour Officer Vincent Burnett could not confirm if the labour department was contacted, pointing out that at the time the BIDC staff were sent home he was attending the International Labour Organization (ILO) conference in Geneva.
When asked by Barbados TODAY to comment further on the development Burnett would only say that “the only way you settle things is at the table”.
When approached executive director of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) Tony Walcott refused to comment.
Following today’s strike, the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) held a two-hour meeting at the office of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) to assess the situation.
The BPSA Chairman Alex McDonald told Barbados TODAY the meeting was to discuss the impact the strike had on private sector operations and “come up with a position where we will go if this matter persist further”.
However, McDonald declined to disclose what ideas were put forward, noting that the BPSA was scheduled to have another meeting.
“The size of the action today mitigated deep impact. What it did do though, was to send a message that there is a seriousness about this issue and about the broader issues that we have heard,” said McDonald, pointing out that there was need for more meaningful dialogue at the level of the social partnership.
He said members of the private sector wanted the issue to be resolved, adding that it did not reflect well on the country.
“We can’t have our unions go out on a quasi national strike or leading into a more serious strike and there needs to be a reaction to see how we can circumvent that. What we absolutely want is more dialogue,” said McDonald.
Asked if he was approached by the union about the possibility of including private sector members in future protest action, McDonald was coy.
“We are always in talks with all of the partners, with government and with the unions. We have reached out to all sides and obviously each side has its own case, ” he said.