‘Inject’ yourself, PM!
Opposition leader calls on Stuart to intervene in BIDC dispute
With Barbados facing the likelihood of a general strike this week, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley told a Barbados Labour Party (BLP) public meeting at Providence, Christ Church last night she was in possession of evidence of intimidation of public sector workers.
Additionally, she told the crowd that the issue, which had contributed to the present deteriorating industrial relations climate — the recent early retirement of 10 state-run Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) employees — could be easily solved by a Cabinet decision.
However, she accused Prime Minister Freundel Stuart of avoiding the issue and allowing the Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer to fly out to New York over this weekend to save her from another failure on the industrial relations front.
Mottley noted that trade unions were not yet seeking pay raises on behalf of workers, or pursuing “broken promises of duty-free cars and interest-free mortgages”. “They are (only) asking for workers security of tenure to be protected,” she said.
Brandishing a document, the Opposition Leader spoke of an occurrence following the one-day protest march through the City last Monday.
“That a letter could come from within a ministry asking . . . to identify the names of all public officers who attended the protest march on July 6, 2015, is not only regressive, but you will have the likes of national heroes who fought for workers’ rights in this country, [Sir] Frank Walcott, [Sir] Hugh Springer, and [Sir] Grantley Adams, rolling in their graves.”
She said these national heroes would find it unbelievable “that a modern Government, almost 50 years after Independence, conceives to intimidate workers, asking for their names when all they are doing is that which the Constitution of Barbados guarantees them to [do]: associate on behalf of the workers of this country”.
Throughout the current industrial dispute, BLP spokespersons have said it was a matter for the unions and the employers, and their role was to support the workers. However, in light of the alleged intimidation, Mottley vowed last night to take the BLP’s involvement further.
“I say that if this intimidation starts, you will see and feel the full force of the Barbados Labour Party in this country. We are not going to tolerate it. This party was founded on the principle of workers’ rights . . . . There are too many people who walked with Grantley Adams and all of the others to bring rights to your grandparents, and great-grandparents and parents when they couldn’t do anything to protect themselves in this country,” she said.
Mottley went on: “Do you understand that all that is required is for the Cabinet of Barbados to meet and . . . tell the Minister of Industry that this Government will not discriminate against people on the basis of age?”
“I have authority to speak on this matter because I was the one who led the [parliamentary] debate in 2004 that sought to harmonize the retirement age of people in statutory boards with the one in the private sector and under the National Insurance Scheme. And we said then that we needed to delay the age from 65 to 67 and we would do it over a period of time.
“The section that was left for the statutory boards to send home an individual at 60 was never intended to send home a class of persons and, in this case, a class of persons across every department of the IDC, connected only by age. That is wrong and that is discriminatory.”
Mottley criticized Prime Minister Freundel Stuart for so far adopting a hands-off approach to the matter. She referred to his July 4 statement at a CARICOM press conference that he was not invited to mediate in the dispute, and was not going to “inject” himself into the matter.
“When he told the country he does not inject himself, I really had to laugh . . . . He couldn’t be for real,” Mottley said.
“You have a strike that threatens to shut down this whole country, and you goin’ talk bout you ain’t injecting yourself in the process.”
The Opposition Leader then turned her attention to the Minister of Labour, Dr Esther Byer, who previous speakers at the meeting said was in the US despite the tension of industrial action in Barbados. Photos of Byer, presumably in New York, were posted on a jumbo screen at the rally.
Mottley said, “Mercifully, she has been sent abroad to save the unions and workers and Barbados from her perfect record of failure because she has not yet solved a single labour dispute in this country. So she may do better entertaining the friends of DLP in New York.”