Saturday 19 October, 2019

Workers coerced into marching, say Gov't MPs

Employees dressed in company uniform during Monday's march through Bridgetown.

Employees dressed in company uniform during Monday's march through Bridgetown.

Monday’s march through Bridgetown that was jointly led by the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) and a coalition of the four main trade unions has been described as a “watershed moment” in Barbados’ history – but not for positive reasons.

According to Education Minister Ronald Jones, himself a former trade union president, many persons involved in the march to press Government for dialogue with the Social Partners felt compelled to do so by forces other than a personal moral stance:

“When you say to workers ‘I am closing my business. You must dress in your uniform and you must go and march’ – that is denying the rights, in our democracy, of the worker. You have a right to close your business; the worker has a right to decide if I am going to march or not. That march yesterday is a watershed moment in the history of Barbados.”

“If it is not dealt with in a manner that will calm some of the historical difficulties, one is going to see a fundamental change in the bedrock of Barbados,” he contended. He had previously noted that persons were foregoing the usual processes observed within the Social Partnership in favour of “wild cat” activities.

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He said what was happening was a “wicked, vicious and nasty undermining of the Government”. Condemning the racial slant of some of the commentary surrounding the march, Jones said there was no need to “open historical sores” in an attempt to damage the Government.

Stating that Government stands ready to have serious dialogue with stakeholders across the board, Jones concluded, “At the end of the day, you cannot work in a conspiratorial manner to create the kind of atmosphere that has been starting for a long time in Barbados and almost reaching its crescendo by that march yesterday.”

His sentiments were echoed by Tourism Minister, Richard Sealy, who noted that while 20 or 30,000 may have marched, there were 255,000 who did not.

Sealy contended, “If you have an employer who looks at someone in their ploy…you tell them – I’m going to pay you and give you a day off or a half-day off and then you tell the person ‘Oh, by the way there’s a march – you don’t have to attend, but I going. What are you really telling that person? That is subtle coercion.”

He reiterated, “If I’m the boss and I’m telling you, ‘You don’t have to go, but I’m going. By the way, other people in your department going.’ What is going to happen next time when there’s a promotion or something involved? It is a subtle form of coercion however you look at it and there was a lot of it going on yesterday.”

He further claimed there were persons taking a record of who attended the march.

March through Bridgetown - July 24

Meanwhile, he highlighted the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association (BHTA) and the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) as not participating in Monday’s march and being “progressive and patriotic enough to recognise when they should disassociate themselves from something that is not in the national interest.”

“This idea that there is unanimity and yesterday is some representative of what’s going on out there – it is not true. There are elements in private sector [and] elements in the trade union that were not supportive of what happened yesterday,” he maintained.

Sealy said he was “calling out” the leadership of the trade unions for forming an alliance with people who he said have expressed the view that Barbados would be better off without unions.

“You don’t go after a government that is willing to sacrifice political capital to keep your people employed,” he contended. “You’re going to join shoulder to shoulder with people who despise the trade union movement and say so openly?”

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