The Social Partnership

It is often said that where a people do not know their history, they are doomed to repeat it.  In the case of the Commonwealth Caribbean region, to repeat our history is often seen as finding ourselves in a prostrate position, where the needs of the majority of citizens are not the paramount concern.  To not know our history can also have a potentially detrimental outcome.  When we do not know our history, we can allow people to rewrite whole portions of positive gains with theatre and ill meaning gesticulation.

While our pre-independence history has seen us more as helpless consumers, the creation of a Caribbean identity and nationalist sentiment in the post 1930s period and through to the last decade of the twentieth century, has left us with germane products which have forwarded our cause.  When we are critiquing our governance structures, we must ensure that we do nothing to deprecate our positive gains.

Last Friday the Social Partnership (SP) met at the Hilton Hotel (a symbolic location as the hotel is a state jewel currently on the auction block).  In listening to the ensuing debate and the degree to which the meeting had been successful or not, I found myself feeling the need to ‘brush up’ on what the social partnership really was and how it came to be.  I did not think that the meeting was as colossal a waste of time as pundits were announcing.  I think to have publicized the farce which was marketed as a Social Partnership meeting last Friday, should make Barbadians even more frantic to rescue our democracy from further discombobulation.  That is a significant and important purpose and so the meeting could not be without benefit.

We must not be ahistorical in framing the frustrations about the position in which we find our country.  We should not cease to celebrate the SP as the indigenous and effective mechanism which it has the potential to be even if we admit that last Friday has shown us the need to tweak the just over twenty year tool.

The SP mechanism in Barbados arose out of the recession crisis of the early 1990s.  Most of the other Commonwealth Caribbean countries were in International Monetary Fund programmes and Barbados, in the face of rising crime, threatening social instability and union led protests, agreed that there needed to be deeper collaboration between government, labour and capital. To facilitate the discourse among stakeholders, there was a formalized tripartite agreement with a first protocol signed in 1993.

One of the greatest benefits resulting from the formalization of the Social Partnership was the perceived consolidation of the Labour Union movement and the labour components of the economy.  The Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), an umbrella body for labour unions, was created. (Large scale) capital banded together under The Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA). Perhaps what less people know is that along with these two organizations, there are specific objectives which every Social Partnership protocol focuses on addressing based on the perceived areas of importance in the specific developmental cycle of Barbados.

The first three protocols at least showed some gains from the creation of the SP.  In those years, the objectives showed a clear pattern of being addressed and replaced by new targets to be met.  By the fifth protocol, we had the first indications that perhaps our Social Partnership needed to be reexamined.  The objectives set out for protocol period 2005-2007 were simply extended to 2010.  Protocol 6 was extended from 2011 to 2013 and left in place to the present.

When we simplistically say that the meeting last week yielded nothing, we are seriously oversimplifying what we witnessed and are doing Barbados disservice in the simplification.  The meeting of the Social Partnership last week could not provide the strong forward direction we desired because the SP is a part of the vessel Barbados which is adrift and on a course for shipwreck.  Neither Protocol 5 nor Protocol 6 seemed to bear any serious relationship to the global economic crisis in which we were engulfed at their signing.  The focus was not on our foreign reserve position or the deficit the island was facing.

The objectives addressed issues such as workplace health and safety and non-communicable diseases. The Protocol 6 carried a generic objective ‘dealing with the current economic crisis’ but it seemed to lack definite measures like past protocols had outlined.

In doing the brief historical review of the SP, I actually discovered that by not being fully seized of our history, we were ready to throw out a very important national baby with the grimy bath water of this nine year period of malaise in our story.  The Social Partnership as formalized in 1993 was effective for the period of time it served.  However, we have treated the SP as we did our Independence projects.

Firstly, we left both movements at the mercy of the personality of their primary progenitors. Just as the country held course under our first strong nationalist Prime Ministers and floundered in periods after, the SP held steady under the leadership of its first chairman, Prime Minister Owen Arthur, and took on a very different complexion under a different chair last week.  The second flaw is that where we should have seen the Independence and the SP projects as fluid and affected by political and social developments, we act as though once they have been formed, they must remain unchanging and staid.

Our Independence projects were weakened significantly when interrogated by globalism.  Our Social Partnership, so effective at assisting us to navigate one recession, wavered when it was called on by our most recent economic challenge.  The Independence movement and our national culture and our SP were shaken for the same reasons – we did not adequately set to work consolidating our gains.

Additionally, we cannot feign surprise about the state of the SP.  CTUSAB, over the last years, has faced issues of financial viability and consensus in full pubic glare.  There were no real efforts at conciliation.  CTUSAB went into last Friday’s proceedings virtually without a constituency to represent as the four major unions, over the last few weeks, have decided to sail their own metaphorical canoes.

Weaknesses in the Barbados Private Sector Association were laid bare as they tried to set up two working groups a few weeks ago.  They lacked a relationship with the University of the West Indies which would have given their efforts academic validation.  They also lacked the operational mechanism to feed their suggestions back into the SP. Although our SP has served us well, there are glaring areas of strengthening needed. Added to this was the perennial political problem we have been plagued with since 2013.

When we dissect last week’s meetings along the lines I have attempted to highlight, we get a clearer sense of why we are in the position that we are.  We do not have institutions and actors purpose built to removing Barbados from the course it is on.  Every day we go without these is a day more that we seal an uncertain and treacherous fate.  Do you get the impression Barbados is out of control?

Source: (Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies. Email:

3 Responses to The Social Partnership

  1. Jus me August 18, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    100per cent


  2. jrsmith August 18, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    We need to control our politicians they must be put in they place, they cannot get away with treating our people like lumps of ***t on they shoes, holding our people to ransom for they own good…
    We need to fight back , let them be scared of losing they jobs for a change , if they are not performing for the people……………….
    We need an act of parliament ASAP namely so the ( Accountability Act 2017 ) to give the the automatic right to remove (MPs) from office who is not working for or on behalf of the people ………. this must be in place or we are doomed……..

  3. Jus me August 19, 2017 at 12:12 am

    But JR these are the same people.
    Therein lies a problem


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