As the debate rages about the relevance of trade unions, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has affirmed the need for trade union activity in Barbados.

While addressing the National Union of Public Workers??? 70th Annual General Conference last evening, Mr Stuart said the unions had all acted responsibly during this difficult period.

Mr. Stuart told his audience: ???The National Union of Public Workers, for its part, is to be commended for the professionalism it has pursued, the thoroughness it has displayed, and the stamina it has shown in its effort to ensure that the public workers got nothing but the fairest deal, in the circumstances.

???The conduct of this Union as well as that of the other unions, who have all acted responsibly throughout this very difficult process, has accentuated the need for trade union activity in Barbados to be protected and encouraged; and for the social partnership between labour, capital and the state to be further consolidated.???

Stating that he did not belong to the school of thought that in and out of season, trade unions should be in an adversarial relationship with employers, the Prime Minister said that belief reflected an incorrect view. ???While always keeping an eagle eye out for the interests of the workers, the good trade union will also always be like a sensitive seismograph registering all the fluctuations taking place in the economic, social and political environment and will locate the interests of the workers and the response of the union accordingly,??? he suggested.

According to him, the trade union movement has contributed much to the development of Barbados and the Caribbean and he expressed the view that only the unenlightened and the churlish would want to deny that fact.

During the wide-ranging address, Mr. Stuart again defended Government???s decision to lay off workers. ???I have continued to contend that no Government embarks on a programme of retrenchment whimsically or wantonly for the purpose of inconveniencing workers. Retrenchment is a cost cutting mechanism. If a Government cannot afford to pay workers because its financial position is challenged, it has no other choice. The Government of Barbados has done the best it could have done in all of the circumstances,??? he argued.

He pointed out that in 2001 the Government of Barbados was advised that the public service, which employed 26,000, should be downsized by 10,000 persons, over a 10-year period.

He explained that the advice was given on the basis that it took 36 cents out of every dollar of expenditure to pay wages and salaries and this was thought not to be sustainable.

???That path was not pursued. Since then, the public service has grown much larger and it now takes 54 cents out of every dollar to meet public service wages and salaries. When this information is placed in the context of declining Government revenues, we can see why action has to be taken at this time, to change the way that we do business and to restructure our public administration. The Government needs the cooperation of the NUPW and the other trade unions in this regard,??? Mr. Stuart stressed.

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