INTERNATIONAL WORKERS’ DAY ADDRESS BY THE HON. DAVID THOMPSON, PRIME MINISTER OF BARBADOS

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Prime Minister of Barbados, the Hon. David Thompson

International Workers’ Day Address by the Hon. David Thompson, Prime Minister of Barbados

I wish to express fraternal greetings to the Trades Union, all workers’ organizations and all workers of Barbados.

Today is an important day in the workers’ calendar when people celebrate the social and economic achievements of the labour movement throughout the world.

Whether you refer to it as May Day or International Workers’ Day or Labour Day it signifies the universal struggle between Labour and Capital and the growing appreciation of the vital role that labour plays in creating surplus value.

We acknowledge the importance of May 1st as the beginning of summer in colder climates and the primordial significance of this date that marks the return of the sun and the renewal of energy in such environments.

As we celebrate Labour Day today let us never forget that Barbados and other slave colonies of the New World were the sites for year-round struggle against the dehumanization of workers.

Indeed the history of Barbados – from the day the first indentured servants landed, and intensified when the first slaves arrived to this very moment – has been a story of defiance, overtly and covertly, in pursuit of freedom and better working conditions.

A few days ago, we in Barbados celebrated National Heroes Day and it is significant to note that every single one of the National Heroes dedicated their lives to improving the conditions of workers.

Whether they used the sword, or the Christian cross, or the pen or their eloquent tongues or the cricket bat, they took the battle to the entrenched plantocracy to win more and more concessions for the working classes of Barbados.

It is also significant to note that their victories were not achieved by individual efforts alone but through organization.

Hence we must in the same breath that we glorify our heroes also recognize the important role played by Bussa’s Army, Sarah Gill’s Methodist Church, all Trade Unions especially the Barbados Worker’s Union, and all Political Parties including, the Democratic League, the Liberal Party, the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party.

There is no doubt whatsoever that we have come a long way since the “William and John” slave ship landed in Holetown in 1627.

Through a succession of struggles we have transformed a little island in the Caribbean Sea from being an impoverished collection of poor villages totally dependent on sugar, to the leading developing country of the world.

Today we can boast of being a social democracy with free education at all levels, a comprehensive National Insurance and Social Security Scheme, improved Health Care Services, accelerated industrial development, a buoyant tourist industry and a comparatively high standard of living.

But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. There are still too many pockets of poverty in Barbados and the goal of social and economic enfranchisement is still far from fruition.

For my Government, January 15th was the beginning of spring. Hence May 1st can be considered the height of summer, with all the energy and aspirations that this season connotes.

In our Manifesto we promised that we would continue to champion the cause of workers, especially since globalization and economic liberalization were posing serious threats to the gains made by the labour movement over the years.

We recalled that in 1992/1993 the DLP working together with the private sector and workers representatives created what is today hailed as the Barbados Social Partnership.

We promised that we would expand and empower the Social Partnership and together enact a comprehensive National Labour Rights legislative compendium.

In particular, we stressed that the Social Partnership would have as part of its mandate a regular examination of prices and incomes and their impact on workers and employers.

Since then the Ministry of Labour and Civil Service and the Social Partnership have been engaging in a number of exercises aimed at modernizing several pieces of labour and employment legislation including the following:

(1) The Labour Department Act, to enhance the duties and powers of the Chief Labour Officer, to make improvements where necessary to our Dispute Resolution machinery especially in relation to collective disputes.

(2) The Trade Union Act to include other provisions such as the recognition procedures, the registration of collective agreements, the strengthening of the provisions in Section 40(a) of the Act and the provision of new Alternative Dispute Resolution machinery including the establishment of tribunals.

(3) The Employment Rights Act with provisions for the protection of all employees who can make claims to an Employment Rights Tribunal where it is alleged that the employee has been unfairly dismissed.

(4)      The revision to the Trade Disputes (Arbitration and Enquiry) Act which allows the State through the Governor-General to intervene in collective disputes and to convene Arbitration Tribunals.

(5)          The Holiday with Pay Act to modernize a number of sections on the legislation.

(6)          The Shops Amendment Act – the Government is in the process of making a number of changes to the Shops Order and is at the state of reconvening the Wages Council to look at the wages of Shop Assistants.

(7)          The Severance Payments Act – The Government is also reviewing a number of the provisions under the Severance Payments Act.

(8)      The Government is also reviewing some aspects of the Public Service Act since Trade unions and other stakeholders still express some concern over various aspects of the Act.  This work is ongoing.

(9)      The Ministry is reviewing the Safety and Health at Work Act, 2005 where it is due to have this piece of legislation proclaimed.

With respect to health and safety I can today share with you the recent decision in Cabinet to bring the issue of the Louis Lynch Secondary School to closure. We believe that if the health of our children and the nearby workers is at risk, then Government has a responsibility to remove either the victims or the causes of this threat to the health of our people. 

The government has also agreed, among other things, to periodic air quality monitoring, eliminate the concerns that preclude the proclamation of the latest health and safety legislation, take action to deal with fungal spores in the work plant, undertake a soil analysis within the area of the Louis Lynch School, improve ventilation conditions indoors and undertake a health survey. We have also agreed to thoroughly analyse the many industrial processes – including those used by laundries – in order to have a database of chemicals used, establish a regime for control of potentially dangerous chemicals in schools and elsewhere, expand health and safety training for workers and establish a registry to collect medical data on illness trends in respect of those who worked at the Louis Lynch school and its environs.

 

On a wider canvas and in the current economic climate the Government will be looking to the Social Partnership for co-operation and consensus on the vexing problem of the rising cost of living.

 

This is essentially an international crisis and we believe that in Barbados the best approach is through a Prices and Income Policy.

 The vital lessons we learned from 1993 is that massive increases in wages and income only exacerbate the problem and that the commercial sector can do much more o contain price rises.

We therefore look to the Social Partnership in negotiating a Wages Accord buttressed by some form of price control.

In conclusion I want to assure all the stakeholders in the economic and social development of Barbados that the rules of engagement have changed. The polemic ideology and politics of the Cold War have to a certain extent become redundant. This paradigm shift now manifests itself in negotiation rather than confrontation. We have the machinery for negotiation in Barbados and it would be in our best interest to use it effectively.

 

I therefore appeal to the workers of Barbados and their organizations to sit with Government, employers and representatives of civil society to work out new and unique paths to progress in our beloved country.

 

Happy International Workers’ Day to one and all.

 

 

   

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