Don’t abandon the Social Partnership

A prominent St Lucian attorney-at-law and corporate decision-maker is suggesting that Barbados should not abandon the existing Social Partnership model.

Stephen McNamara, the chairman of Sagicor Financial Corporation, said the arrangement involving Government, employers and trade unions that was established back in 1993, was perhaps the most significant example of what could be achieved through the creation of a culture of consultation and cooperation.

Stephen McNamara
Stephen McNamara

McNamara delivered the feature address today at a luncheon coinciding with the 56th Annual General Meeting of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC). Prominent businessman Sir Allan Fields was presented with an appreciation for his 38 years’ contribution to the BEC.

McNamara said while there was some debate about the current level of success and continued relevance of the Social Partnership, there could be no doubt about its positive impact on the Barbadian society and economy, especially in the 1990s.

He referred to a report entitled “Social Partnership: New Public Practice in Barbados”, written by Wayne Charles-Soverall and Jamal Khan, which, he said, suggested that the arrangement had served as a model for the developing world in general and the Caribbean in particular.

He said the study, examining the qualitative and quantitative results of the series of Social Partnership protocols since the first was implemented in the early 1990s, had confirmed their contribution to the reversal of economic decline followed by sustained growth.

Importantly, McNamara said, the paper also provided a basis for understanding the application of similar consultative approaches to significant issues at the international, national and local level.

He said these factors supported the view that consultation can lead to cooperation and to successful outcomes for stakeholders depending on the nature of the crisis, the willingness of stakeholders to engage in social dialogue, to achieve national consensus based on pragmatic solutions, to place national interests above all else and demonstrate the resolve to implement bold decisions.

The Sagicor chairman stressed that while the factors represented the necessary conditions for consultation and cooperation to impact national development, he believed them to be insufficient to ensure that consultation actually resulted in cooperation that led to success.

“Too often consultation is used as an excuse for doing nothing. More often, consultation is what you call the meeting you have before doing what you always intended to do,” he said.

McNamara said there existed and would continue to be many other opportunities where, given the circumstances of the region, consultation and cooperation at all levels would be crucial to achieving progress.

He said in Barbados and the region, some of these opportunities would be in the areas of funding education and healthcare in Barbados, partnerships between the University of the West Indies and businesses in the Caribbean to improve job skills and, perhaps, the workplace attitudes of graduates.

He went on: “Programmes promoted by your National Initiative for Service Excellence to improve productivity, public sector reform that can address the concerns of your Central Bank Governor about public sector efficiency, creating an environment that is considered more facilitative by local and international business, initiatives that really do encourage entrepreneurship and foster business growth.

“Less contentious relations between employers and employees, directly and between the organizations that represent both groups and increasing both worker productivity and the quality of our organizational leadership in both the public and private sectors,” he added.

McNamara further suggested that the country should use consultation to begin to address the problems of crime and violence; to deal with the social, financial and criminal issues associated with illegal drugs; to reduce youth unemployment; and to change lifestyles, including those related to chronic diseases that significantly impact on national health budgets and workforce productivity.

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