The agency established to help Barbadian businesses develop their competitiveness has suggested that the ongoing industrial action by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is counterproductive.
With the country struggling to keep productivity levels up, the Productivity Council said the island could not afford the ongoing strike.
Executive Director John Pilgrim told Barbados TODAY that strikes lead to loss of productivity, and this was never a good thing.
“Productivity loss as a result of industrial disputes is never something that impact favourably for the employers or even for the workers, because when you have a loss of productivity it means that the overall performance of the organization will be compromised ,” said Pilgrim, adding that both the quality of service and the relationship with customers also suffered as a result of industrial action.
According to police estimates, over 3,500 public sector workers took to the streets on Monday in response to a call from their unions – the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) – to protest against the forced retirement of 13 workers of the state-owned Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC), ten of whom have reached the age of 60.
Pilgrim said it was important that the social partners quickly “get back to basics” and settle their disputes through negotiations.
“To my mind all actions, initiatives and processes should be completed to ensure that strikes are averted. In other words, we should seek to exhaust all avenues before we allow the relationships to break down to the level of strikes,” insisted Pilgrim.
Monday’s march was the first in over two decades, bringing to an end a long period of calm on the industrial relations front, which followed the establishement of the Social Partnership.
The partnership emerged from the upheavals in the early 1990’s when the island was placed under austerity measures by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, due to less-than-favourable economic circumstances.
Pilgrim said the tripartite arrangement worked well and resulted in a reduction in the number of days lost to industrial action.
“That was an era where the social partners came together and build a new process of relations for governance. And it worked well for the country because when you checked between 1993 and 2003, over that 10-year period with the advent of the tripartite relationship, the number of man days lost as a result of industrial disputes went down almost by 90 per cent. People were talking and having social dialogue, people were speaking to resolve, people were looking at the bigger picture,” he pointed out.
The consultant said he believed stakeholders had allowed the Social Partnership to become “a little bit weakened” which introduced “a kind of variable that will continue to impact in a negative way on our relationships and productivity.
“The evidence is clear that [the Social Partnership] worked well. We have to go back to basics. Otherwise one thing will lead to another, and another will lead to another and it will have negative cascading effects at the sectorial and even at the national level,” warned Pilgrim.
“We can’t afford to have that especially at a time when we are rebuilding. We have investments coming back into Barbados, we have some level of confidence being restored, things like [strikes] we can’t afford . . . We need to get back quickly and talk some more. Talk is always a good thing,” urged Pilgrim.