EDITORIAL: In search of recognition and equality
It appears to us mildly surprising that the current General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union [BWU], Ms Toni Moore, is only now making a call for legislation to provide for the compulsory recognition by local employers of workers’ organizations as reported in The Barbados Advocate for last week Sunday.
According to that news item, Ms Moore, in her remarks at the BWU’s 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference last week Saturday, indicated that high on the Union’s agenda when it finally meets with the Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Mr Colin Jordan, will be “to have trade union recognition rights enshrined in law”.
Ms Moore bases this need on the fact that there are a number of local companies, one of which she identified, that have continued to challenge what she refers to as “the established industrial relations practice in the country”. She further intimated that the “BWU was not interested in wasting time or playing games”.
We describe her call for a compulsory recognition statute as mildly surprising since, to our certain knowledge, there have been, over the last two decades, at least two official attempts to initiate discussion on an amendment to the Trade Unions Act, Cap 361, so as to provide for, first, the compulsory recognition, under certain stipulated conditions, of a workers’ organization certifying this as the bargaining agent for established units within an employing concern and, second, for the legal enforceability of collective agreements.
These proposals appeared to have met with a lukewarm response from the BWU at the tine and thus had to be abandoned by the then governing administration on both occasions. It might be gleaned from this apparent disinterest that the Union remain satisfied with the unwritten “established industrial relations practice”.
It seems clear that such an arrangement would eventually be challenged in a progressive modern economy, where investors would need to have some certainty as to the commercial and employment environment into which they are intending to establish a business. To learn after they have committed their hard earned money to a venture that an unwritten custom binds them to a contractual nexus that was never contemplated seems unwarranted, unsophisticated, and faintly misleading, especially when such comparable legislation exists in most, if not all, of our neighbouring regional jurisdictions.
The argument might be made that compelling an employer by statute to recognize a workers’ organization implicates its right to freedom of association, but this thesis may be rebutted by the facts that recognition of the union leading to certification for the purposes of collective bargaining serves to concretize the individual employee’s own constitutional right to freedom of association that expressly includes the right to join a trade union of his or her choice, and that such legislation comports fully with our international obligations as members of the International Labour Organization [ILO] and, more specifically, as 1967 ratifiers of Convention No. 98 -Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining 1948.
In her remarks, Ms Moore also expressed dissatisfaction with the practice of some companies not engaging in equal pay for equal work. In this regard, she might, if this is not at present a subject matter of collective bargaining agreements, urge the Minister to expedite the enactment of the anti-discrimination legislation so frequently promised by the last administration.
The enactment of these measures, will, we posit, bring a much needed sophistication to Barbados’ industrial relations culture by placing it firmly under the rule of law.