Collusion between the Government and the country’s main trade unions is responsible for an increase in “wildcat” demonstrations that have dominated the news over the last few weeks, says trade unionist Senator Caswell Franklyn.
And he is urging the Government to urgently address the situation, warning that if left to fester, authorities could have more on their hands than mere peaceful demonstrations.
That was Franklyn’s contention as he criticised Prime Minister Mia Mottley for chastising workers for the country’s volatile industrial relations climate.
While addressing the Independence Parade on Monday, Mottley warned demonstrators not to “undermine” 79 years of stable industrial relations by participating in the “wildcat” action.
“There are ways to deal with these matters and we know how to do it and we can do it without undermining the confidence that those who may be watching us from outside have in us, literally because they see all of these examples of what they view as wildcat action taking hold in this nation,” the PM cautioned at Heroes’ Square.
In his reaction to the statement, Franklyn told Barbados TODAY it was Mottley’s attempt to “neutralise” the country’s labour movement that is now coming back to haunt her administration in the form of wildcat action.
In fact, he said that evidence of collusion between the ruling Barbados Labour Party and the major trade unions started as far back as the March 2017 ‘March of Disgust’ against the Fruendel Stuart administration. ‘
This, he said, was further evidenced by the unions’ decision to accept a four per cent salary increase for public servants from the current government after demanding 23 per cent from the previous administration.
According to Franklyn, the latest example of this alleged collusion occurred in the form of “dangerous” changes to the Severance Payments Act made earlier this year that were accepted by trade unions, along with the “bogus” Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) programme. These adjustments have continuously been rejected by Franklyn, who heads the much smaller Unity Workers’ Union (UWU).
Describing the current labour relations climate as the “lowest” in his 62-year lifetime, Franklyn contended that with the trade union movement “neutralised”, Barbados’ traditionally “docile” working class was not expected to fight back.
“It is [Mottley]’s actions that have caused this. The workers are just reacting to her behaviour… This is a labour party that has no regard for labour, forgetting that it was the masses who put her in power in the first place and it is her actions that have caused the problems in the country. The workers are only reacting to it and she is trying to throw blame away from herself when the buck stops at her,” Franklyn argued.
“What the Prime Minister has complained about will continue to happen, and God forbid that the police would try to force the people into submission, because from there things will erupt.
“The best thing for the police to do when they see the people demonstrating is to let them do it peacefully, because it will not go down well because people are hurting.
“People are coming into my office and just crying. You have parents out there with children and they have nothing to feed them with, and if that is not addressed something will happen. So the Government has to take measures to prevent any kind of uprising because they are the ones that have caused it,” the labour leader added.
“Wildcat” demonstrations have so far been launched by employees of Caribbean Aircraft Handling at the Grantley Adams International Airport; the Savannah Hotel in Hastings, Christ Church; The Club Barbados Resort and Spa in Vauxhall, St James; and the Accra Beach Resort in Rockley, Christ Church.
The common bone of contention has been the non-payment of severance payments and other outstanding entitlements owed.
Employees of G4S Secure Solutions (Barbados) Ltd also protested last week outside the Brighton, Black Rock, St Michael headquarters over the company’s failure to deliver promised pay increases and improve working conditions.
On the matter of severance, Prime Minister Mottley has promised that the Government would “stand in the breach” on behalf of unscrupulous employers to ensure that outstanding monies are paid, after which, the Government would recoup the difference from the employer.
Nevertheless, there is no word on exactly how soon the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) will be able to make those payments and Senator Franklyn has expressed doubt about the Government’s authority to demand reimbursement.
In the meantime, the trade unionist said he has been continuously declining invitations to lead aggrieved workers in demonstration.
“Walking around out there in the hot sun won’t put money in people’s pockets and food on the table to feed their children. I want people to get their money and I want the Prime Minister to do her duty by the people who elected her,” Franklyn concluded.