Labour Minister takes trade union movement to task
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer has accused the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) of acting in bad faith and of treating her office with scant respect during the ongoing industrial relations impasse at the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC).
Speaking in the Upper House today during debate on a resolution aimed at raising the profile of the anniversary date for the start of the 1937 disturbances, she further accused one NUPW official of saying, “I will speak to the Prime Minister only after my demand is met or I will meet with the Minister”.
However, the Minister of Labour said the unnamed NUPW official never actually wrote her, or called her, or even sent her a Whatsapp message but was telling the media, “‘I will meet with the Minister’ . . . and that my office contacted them about having a meeting when no such communication went out”.
She further complained of a lack of respect for process by the union, saying, “when you can take something from the domestic level and carry it up all the way to a national strike, including secondary strike action, the respect for the office, the respect for the process as well, those are things that we have to recommit to if we are to recommit to our principles of good governance and social justice”.
Furthermore, the Government Senator charged that the NUPW had used the recent BIDC impasse to fuel its own agenda and “to stir up riot” instead of promoting industrial peace.
“Instead of stirring up for your own interests, don’t use the workers like that. Don’t use ten workers to bring a country to its knees, not ten workers, it just doesn’t make sense,” she said.
“We have to recommit to understand the system and its value before we throw it out. So we commit to good governance, and to peace, and to stability, and to not use the unions or any other party in our Social Partnership and to not use the workers on any social or political platform to stir up riot just to get your own way and for your own agenda.”
Dr Byer also accused the media of trying to pit her against the union after negotiations between the two parties broke down, resulting in industrial action.
She insisted that while she was representing Government during those talks, she was acting as an independent
“I am noticing in what is happening now, I even see that the media is pitting my office, myself against the union . . . . I was the Chairman, the mediator, the conciliator, but I see attempts in the media now, every time they say, ‘union’, they say, ‘the Minister’. So there is an attempt to pit me against the union,” Dr Byer maintained.
“That is not how it is done. In my office, I was the independent third party. Yes, I represent the Government but not in this regard. In this regard, there was a particular agency of Government that was responsible and that was treated as I would treat any other employer when they sit at the table. So we have to recommit to these things that have made us great, that have made our society a peaceful society.”
Her comments come against the backdrop of an assurance by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart that Government would do everything in its power to protect trade unions in Barbados because of the collaborative role they have played with the state in modernizing the country.
However, speaking in the House of Assembly last night, on the same resolution which went before the Senate today, the Prime Minister said while his Government had given the trade union movement a commitment to protect it, it did not mean that unions did not have any responsibility to country.
Without making direct reference to the current dispute, he stressed that when national security was threatened there was need for all parties to step back and search for compromise and to ensure that the social stability was not undermined.
“It cannot be for the comfort of the population that the procedures to which we have all grown accustomed in our industrial relations processes now appear not to be of the same level of importance as they were in the not too distant past,” Stuart said.
“It cannot be for anybody’s comfort because that is one of the certainties that contributed so significantly to the stability and the development of Barbados ever since we have had that Social Partnership between the state and labour.”