The Social Partnership will continue to grow from strength to strength.
By Professor Avinash Persaud
March 21, 2019
This is the Age of Insecurity for many people around the world – which explains Trumpism and Brexit. People have microwave ovens, refrigerators and colour TVs; but worry about uncertain futures at work. They fear not being able to afford decent health care for their loved ones; or retirement for themselves.
In the United States the consensus is that this is largely the result of the advent of the “gig” economy of the likes of Uber and Deliveroo, on-line shopping, and robots. In short, it is the inevitable result of the march of time and technology. Robotpessimism, fatalism and conferences on the future of work abound. Because the US dominates global culture, it is assumed that the global spread of technology will deliver this same fate to all of us, Barbados included.
But the data says something else. There are wide differences in the way countries have managed the challenge of new technologies. Those with national consultation and dispute resolution, collective bargaining, and minimum wages fare better. Their people are less angst, more secure, and inequality and its social ills are less rampant. Tripartism works. And collaboration between workers, employers and Government seems so Barbadian that it is tempting to forget that our social partnership is not yet 30-years old.
The Barbados Social Partnership, delivered in the 1991 crisis, enabled the country to get through without a devaluation of the 2 to 1 exchange rate peg with the US dollar that had held since 1975 and remains today. In 1991 workers accepted a pay cut, while employers held strain. And the social partnership is delivering again today. The traditional response around the world to a decade of deficits that caused Barbados’ debt-toGDP ratio to become the third highest in the world, far above that of Venezuela and Zimbabwe, would be eviscerating job cuts. Job cuts of a size that would break our communities and society. Instead of 5,000 public sector workers going home, less than half of that will. In place of strife, all Barbadians will pay more taxes, more at the fuel pump and pensioners will take a cut. Ninety percent of pensioners voted in favour of a difficult, painful cut. That is the Barbadian bargain. Our way.
Social partnership works for two reasons. First, problems shared are problems halved. And problems halved become surmountable. Second, the effectiveness of policy depends on it being believed, and when it comes out of agreements between organized labour and capital, it is believed. Unions and Employers take their national responsibility more seriously than I have found anywhere else in the world. Because of this deep social partnership it would be folly indeed for anyone to bet against Barbados. Yes, we are in the shadow of the valley today, but Barbadians will build a New Economy in this land and we will arrive at those sunlit uplands because we have set out on our arduous journey together, handin-hand, in strong and resolute partnership.
As Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, I am confident that our strong Social Partnership will constitute the bedrock of Barbados’ economic recovery and transformation.Recognising that Government cannot address all of the pressing social issues, and further recognising that civil society is not specifically included in the tri-partite arrangement, we have broadened the social partnership framework to include a wider range of interest groups — the Third Sector, made up of non-governmental organizations, faith-based organizations and community-based organizations, through the creation of a Social Justice Committee.This more representative Committee, recently approved by Cabinet, will use the same principles of genuine and meaningful dialogue employed by the Social Partnership, to make recommendations on issues of social justice covering a wide range of matters including, but not limited to, poverty alleviation, the role of the family in fostering cultural and societal norms and values, access to employment, safety and security, discrimination, and the environment.The Social Partnership will continue to grow from strength to strength. The love for nation and a deep sense of pride, industry and national duty are evident. The Partnership once again represents tripartism at its best, where Government, workers and employers come together for the cause of national development, fully committed to building a better and stronger nation for all.
In 1991 Prime Minister (Sir) Erskine Sandiford announced that Barbados was facing an awesome financial crisis. The Labour leaders, who heard him, immediately dropped their individual agendas and started working as a focused united body whose central aim was to safeguard the nation’s well being.
What we soon learnt was that the business community had embarked on a parallel course.
Out of this the Tripartite Social partnership was born, structured along the principles adopted by the International Labour Organisation. The undisputable truth is that the Social Partnership has led to a level of commitment to country which may otherwise have escaped us. There have been several occasions when at meetings chaired by Government officials, but also at meetings where labour and capital have wrestled over issues, that compromise in the national interest has won out.
This commitment to country has in many instances changed traditional mind sets and provided for more meaningful dialogue between and among the social partners, a greater willingness to share critical information and a readiness to try the position tabled by another party.
What makes the Barbados Social partnership so valuable is that it is a relationship which calls for mutual trust and respect. It is only as meaningful and honourable as the people are who sit at the table and give their word.
The BPSA believes that our capacity to resolve key economic and social issues is best facilitated and influenced by the quality of collaboration, negotiation and joint problem solving. The tripartite model of the Social Partnership is therefore recognised as a model of greater benefit for the national good than industrial and social conflict and adversarial dialogue. Given the review of its activities over the years, the BPSA believes that the Social Partnership model can continue to offer unique opportunities for communication and dialogue at the highest level which can strengthen rather than weaken national decision making, recognising that it is not a body to usurp the authority of the Government of Barbados.The Government has recently established a Monitoring Committee for the oversight of the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan (BERT), which has been used to secure the much-needed multilateral funding for Barbados, and its success will determine the future economic recovery of Barbados. The Chairman of the BPSA will be one of the Co-Chairs of the BERT monitoring committee.
The BPSA also recognises the recent efforts to widen the model of the Social Partnership and believes that the establishment of a Social Justice Committee is another positive development.
For the future, the BPSA expects a continuation of its role as the strong, unified private sector body within a vibrant Social Partnership of Barbados.
Professor Avinash Persaud, is non-resident senior fellow of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, Emeritus Professor of Gresham College in the UK and Chairman of Intelligence Capital Limited.