Now is not the time for grandstanding! 

In 2016, prime minister Dean Barrow of Belize had the pleasure of welcoming Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders to his English-speaking, Central-American nation. On that occasion he reminded them that “there has been a failure of the world economy to recover properly from the shock of the financial crisis” and that “failure, for the majority of us in CARICOM, has meant slow growth, increasing difficulties with our public finances, and tremendous strains on our capacity to satisfy the life-improvement aspirations of our people”.
What has been the fallout of this crisis? There have been mounting pressures placed on governments by the labour movement and the private sector; albeit for different reasons. The labour movement has concerned itself with government’s move to downsize its levels of public sector employees, as a means to reducing its expenditure, while at the same time improving on its efficiencies and competitiveness. With a view to remaining competitive, the business community has pressured government to provide a host of incentives so as to enable the sector to drive the competitive element.

The problems that continue to face governments of the region remain those of managing the fiscal deficit, maintaining the level of foreign reserves and findings ways to stimulate the growth of the economy through the introduction of projects and programmes which attract direct and indirect foreign investment. The common challenge facing most Caribbean countries is the continued reliance on the tourism industry. The interesting thing about this, is the fact that the 15 CARICOM member states are known to compete amongst themselves for a piece of the tourism cake.  

However, the challenges are severe when one considers that the once strong economies of oil rich Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados — which had both strong sugar cane and tourism industries — have now begun to cave in. Governments which have not fallen victim to International Monetary Fund (IMF) programmes, as has been the case in Trinidad, Jamaica and Guyana, would hardly want to do so. They would want to reduce the possibility of a devaluation of the dollar, which is pegged to that of the United States, and to eliminate any of the impositions of the IMF’s programme that could impact the roll out of state-sponsored social programmes.

The fact of the matter is that it is hard to find meaningful solutions to the problems facing individual territories. However, the answer does not lie in complaining, apportioning blame, grandstanding, playing politics and/or protesting. The lack of a commitment to implementation and a void in terms of constructive ideas and suggestions will not advance the efforts to find solutions. The business community can take no credit for addressing the problem by merely continuing with business as usual and pursuing a wholesale and retail path in which almost everything is imported. The trade union movement should support government incentives to the business community, which needs to be encouraged to develop the manufacturing industry and to spur other private sector-led initiatives aimed at bringing in more foreign exchange into the country.

Trade unions ought to focus on spurring on the private sector to pursue this path, as a means to dissuading the sector from finding comfort in laying off workers.

It is about time that government, capital and labour come to recognize that they are all part of the problem and must be part of the solution. Placing the blame squarely at the feet of a government is simply a cop out. This brings to the fore a serious shortcoming of any social partnership where it fails to take collective responsibility when things go wrong. There is nothing to be gained from finger-pointing and the apportioning blame. There is much to be gained from finding workable solutions.

It is in these difficult times that trade unions and the private sector must take on a responsible role of educating and informing their members and the public. However, it must be stressed that the best interest of the individual CARICOM countries will be served and any tensions eased in crisis situations when government resorts to bringing the social partners into their confidence.

Labour across the region should therefore not be chided for promoting the interests of workers, but should guard against hasty, insensitive and draconian responses, as its actions could imperil its members, who may fall victim to the private sector which may very well use rising operation costs as a reasonable excuse to lay off workers, and to up the prices on goods and service as a means of sustaining business.

In times like these it is not uncommon for labour and capital to look out for their individual interests. However, together as a social partnership, which includes government, success can be achieved in remedying the fallout from the economic and fiscal crisis. Heed should be taken of the advice offered by Barbadian calysonian, Observer, who in his 2017 Crop Over calypso urged that we remain a ‘Patriots to the Cause’.

Source: (Dennis De Peiza)

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