Technology at work

It appears to be the case that many Barbadians think that we already live in the best of all possible worlds and thus anything new, especially if it is not of local origin, should not be allowed to intrude into our blissful pristine existence.

This Panglossian perspective has led to one aspect of the Barbadian condition; that any suggestion of change in the way in which things were done before should be stoutly resisted with all the logical force at our command, in the vain hope that these threats of non-compliance will somehow arrest the inevitability of progress.

We have seen this stance in the initial resistance to the enactment of the seat belt law; in the less than lukewarm reception given to the introduction of the Breathalyser test; in the negative reaction to the implementation of the TAMIS system and, most recently, to the BWA proposal to charge an inspection fee if a consumer insists, even after a positive initial inspection by the Authority, that a water meter is

In each case, the most sophisticated arguments were or are posited as to why the “new thing” would not help matters and, in some cases, make them worse. In this context, our founding fathers and later administrations must be commended for their fortitude, intestinal or otherwise, amid what we believe would have been strong resistance from some, in securing our independent status; in implementing a national social security system; and in enacting a Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in the 1980s, to mention but a few.

We witnessed yet another example of this condition last week when, according to reports, at least one of the local teachers’ organisations instructed its members not to use the Open EMIS process as directed by the Ministry of Education. The organisation’s concern that there had been no discussion with it on this new process is clearly legitimate as not being in accordance with good industrial relations practice,
although the Minister refuted this by reminding “the process is being used across the system and has been being (sic) used for some time…”

Another argument was the one of dubious legal validity that the old register book was the sole extant legal document and not any form of digital data to similar effect. We are reminded, however, that the intendment of our electronic transactions legislation, Cap 308B is that “information shall not be denied legal effect solely because it is in electronic form or communicated by electronic means…”

In any case, the organisation’s resistance is likely to find little favour with the law. There is much cogent local and other authority to the effect that the employer retains a managerial prerogative to determine the processes of production, including its computerisation. In one instructive decision, where tax officers sought a declaration that the institution of a computerised record system was in breach of their contracts of employment, the learned judge observed, in denying the motion, “…the contrary conclusion would fly in the face of common sense.

Although doubtless, all of us, being conservative (with a small “c”) by nature desire nothing better than to be left to deepen our accustomed ruts, and hate change, a tax officer has no right to remain in perpetuity doing one defined type of tax work in one particular way”.

Happy to relate, the matter appeared to have been settled last week after a meeting between the Minister and the union, although the union did raise a bone of further potential contention with its assertion that its members will retain the position that the union has always held…and will not sign in on a daily basis…”

Barbados Advocate

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