Notes From The Margin

April 9, 2008

To The New Airport Board… Can We Have Luggage Trolleys Please?

We noted a news story in the paper recently about the new board of directors at the Grantley Adams airport taking up office.

THE NEW Grantley Adams International Airport Board will be working to improve Barbados’ tourism product.

Chairman of GAIA Inc., Rawle Brancker, said “the airport is a very integral part of the tourism product that is Barbados”.

“We will improve upon what we’ve met at the airport and work towards enhancing it and strive for the excellence that is required to make Barbados’ tourism product always No. 1,” he added, during a brief interview recently.

The airport falls under minister of public works and international transport Mr. John Boyce, however Mr. Richard Sealy as minister of tourism will have more than a little influence we are sure. WE on the margin have one request.

Can we please have luggage trolleys like an airport in the REAL world?

Marginal

March 28, 2008

David, We will have to disagree on the 100 days point!

We are great fans of Barbados Underground, we find their articles though provoking and well reasoned. We don’t always agree with them, but that’s what makes the blogosphere interesting. David served up an interesting article this week:Barbados Needs National Energy Policy, NOW we agree with the headline and the main point of the article, that in a global economic environment we need a realistic energy policy with a strong emphasis on renewable resources, however we will have to agree to disagree with his subsidiary point.

The Democratic Labour Party (DLP) pledged to Barbadians that within the first 100 days of assuming the reigns of government, it would roll-out several major initiatives. Our commonsense, which has been honed over the years through observation, tells us that the pledge was part of a gimmick which political parties are expected to engage at election time. It should be obvious that a political party in opposition is not equipped to deliver on promises made, simply because it is not in the obvious position of government to efficiently plan and allocate resources. The BU household continue to be amazed at the frenzy which is demonstrated by our educated public concerning trivial matters, whenever we have elections. Following the script to the letter, the opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has reminded the government of its 100 day promise, we listened to Senator Liz Thompson doing so with her usual eloquence in the Senate yesterday.
We commented on the post, to the effect that the “100 Days” was a political gimmick that worked and that it was now fair game for the opposition to use to attack the government. We don’t think it’s the only reason why the DLP won (or even the main reason), but it was a central plank in their platform.
However our real reason goes deeper than that……
The “100 days” was a political gimmick that was packaged for consumption by the electorate. However read more deeply it was the DLP’s statement of “THIS IS WHERE OUR PRIORITIES ARE” and even if you did not believe they were capable of delivering it in the 100 days, (as we think most people with common sense felt) the idea of a time frame communicated that there was a real plan behind the statement.
An opposition party is not in the position of a ruling government in terms of access to information and allocation of resources, however they have a luxury that the Government does not:
Time.
An opposition has time to consult with stakeholders, time to sound out opinions, time to float ideas in informed circles, to create and construct a plan. They also have the unmitigated luxury of doing this in an environment where there is absolutely no pressure to implement. These two things, a sitting government does not have (As Dr. Estwick has found out with Greenland). In this case the DLP had 14 years to craft its agenda for governance.
We think that the Thompson administration should be accountable for its 100 day agenda. If it can’t be done in 100 days, when can we expect it? A year? two years? If the first orders of business are delayed what about the elements of your manifesto that were not in the first 100 days? We should not let it fall quietly by the wayside.
We agree that a discerning eye should be cast over the ABC Highway expansion project and it’s conduct, however we think that the level of scrutiny should be applied to this administration, the principle at stake is simply too important.
Until we hold our politicians accountable for their words and actions we will get the government we deserve.
Marginal

March 22, 2008

We are the middle class….

We were having a chat this afternoon about a Laugh it Off skit from this year’s prodution called “We are the middle class…” which while being very funny takes a very sharp aim at those members of the middle class who have “the big ride” but no money to put gas in it, or who have platinum credit cards (which are maxed out) or who drive soooves (SUV’s).

I was thinking that the middle class in Barbados is perhaps the most hated socio economic group in the islands social milieu. They are constantly pilloried by the “working class” for “forgetting where they came from”, by the “upper classes” for being “social climbers”, by Cave Hill academics as being “petite bourgeois”, by politicians as being somehow “not as bajan” as the “working” class. There is constantly the insinuation that somehow they ought to be ashamed of wanting to live in a nice house, in nice neighborhood and to drive a nice car, or that they did something illegal or immoral to achieve whatever they have.

This goes further, the tax structure in Barbados shields the poor (hell it even gives a reverse tax credit to the poor) and those in the “upper classes” have all sorts of advice from accountants on how to avoid (note I did NOT say evade) paying taxes. The result of this is that income tax in Barbados is paid by the poor sod who works as an employee for a salary (given the exemptions usually a supervisors salary or higher) in short income tax is paid by the middle class.

And no politician dares to be caught giving concessions to the middle class! The poor or “working” class are the politician’s stock in trade in getting the media spotlight. Concessions are given for investment by businesses “to promote growth in employment” but when was the last time you heard a politician crowing about how he was going to help out the guys in the middle?

 The thing is…..

when I think about the middle class people that I know, they are almost all diligent people who work damn hard for a living, they pay their taxes and follow the rules. They do without so that they have something to put away for the future. They are likely to live not just for their future but for their children’s future. They (in many cases) went to UWI in Cave Hill although some were fortunate enough to travel overseas to study (even if only to Jamaica or Trinidad).

Despite being most often accused of “forgetting where they come from” I’ve found that most of them are well aware of where they came from, but more often than not their focus is on “where they are going” and if you follow their lives and careers there is a steady progression towards that goal.

So rather than bashing the middle class, perhaps the next time you hear this type of conversation going on try to relate it to people that you know rather than some amorphous group, ask yourself who are the middle class?

You might be surprised to find out that WE are the middle class..

Marginal

March 18, 2008

Welcome to the 5 year long election campaign!

When the dust settled on January 16th the two parties ended up being quite far apart on number of seats but actually quite close on total number of votes cast. With only an 8% difference in terms of total votes, it means that the current government is vulnerable to a 4% swing. This means that despite a comfortable majority in Parliament, the Thompson administration must politically plan from now with an eye to elections in 2013. It also means that the Mottley opposition is already keeping an eye on that year.

As a result of this we are likely to see Mr. Thompson trying to attack what has long been perceived as the BLP’s strongest point; it’s management of the economy. The BLP for it’s part will pick at every flaw in the government’s actions.

This leads to the  ludicrousness of things such as Government suddenly becoming skeptical about unemployment statistics despite never having said a word about it before or during the campaign. It certainly was not a part of their platform. They are not releasing those figures because it will reinformce the BLP’s perception of good governance.

For the BLP’s part, this whole “We don’t know why the government won’t work with our consultants” is laughable. They damn well know why and they would do the same if they were in office as well.

What it amounts to is that we are in for a five year long election campaign, with the cut and thrust of January continuing at a lower intensity until 2013

Strap yourselves in, it’s going to be a wild ride!

Marginal

March 9, 2008

David Thompson Praises Owen Arthur- BFP Criticises David Thompson….Coincidence?

 

It was bound to happen sooner or later, BFP turned savage on David Thompson. (Just after Mr. Thompson praised his predecessor)  It would seem that BFP is discovering that politicians are politicians. (Particularly in Barbados)

The whole tale in three parts….

Nation News – Well Done!

BFP: Barbados Cabinet Ministers Free To Accept “Gifts” From Persons Wanting Government Approvals Or Contracts

(Note The BFP  article is published same day as the Nation Article)

Our take on the matter…(Published in June LAST YEAR) “Prime Minister Owen Arthur, and the Opposition Democratic Labour Party led by David Thompson, who was once the Minister of Finance, are virtual ideological twins”

What makes Barbados fortunate is that both Mr. Thompson and Mr. Arthur are quite good as politicians go, and while they may both talk left their actions are decidedly centrist. But anyone expecting fundamental change from either party is likely to be disappointed.

Marginal

March 3, 2008

Why We DON’T Want Obama To Win (Or Clinton For That Matter)

This is one of the more difficult posts to write, difficult because we don’t want to be misunderstood, and difficult because it’s a difficult choice to make. As we write this the Primary season of the US presidential election is rolling forward. The Republican front runner John McCain appears to have his hand on the nomination (barring something quite unexpected happening) In the Democrats camp there is a heated battle for the nomination going on between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In the Caribbean the popular sentiment is understandably for Obama, he’s personable, has an agenda for change in Washington and of course, he’s black. For the first time ever it would seem that an African American has a real chance of ending up in the White House. For a region that is mostly African in descent it’s heady stuff.

However….

As cool as it is that the United States has reached the stage of maturity that they could seriously consider a black man for the post of Commander in Chief, we on the Margin have come to the conclusion that Mr. Obama’s race is (or should be) for us in the Caribbean irrelevant.

Why have we reached this conclusion?

We have to recall the Clinton presidency (That’s Bill if you are confused) Bill Clinton was one of the most “human” US Presidents in living memory. Former President Clinton was enormously popular in the Caribbean, mostly on his personal charisma. However when you look at the effects the Clinton presidency had on the Caribbean, Bill Clinton did more damage to us than any hurricane that has struck the island chain. Why do we say this?

1. Dole/Chiquita Bananas and the WTO.  This action destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of Caribbean farmers basically to repay a campaign contributor.

2. The Ship Rider Controversy. Remember the pressure that was brought to bear on Barbados when it resisted?

3. The OECD “Harmful Taxation” initiative.  Despite the BLP’s efforts to say that it fell apart because of Owen Arthur, we really know that it fell apart because when Bush came to power the US was no longer interested in backing the initiative.

This isn’t meant to be a US bashing post, but the fact is the Caribbean has ALWAYS done better under a Republican in the White House than a Democrat. We can see the echoes of similar policies in Mr. Obama’s current political career. With rhetoric against NAFTA (Ironically which was enacted by Clinton) and action in sponsoring the “Tax Haven Abuse Act”.

If we lived in the US we would probably vote for Mr. Obama, but the fact is that we don’t live in the US. Rather than get caught up in the euphoria that surrounds his campaign we are forced to apply the same logic that we do to our local politicians “Judge them not by what they say, but by what they do” and when judged on that scale (from a Caribbean perspective anyway) Mr. Obama is found to be less than an ideal candidate.

Marginal

February 20, 2008

Strike off – What Happens Now?

Now that the BWU has climbed down from the threat of a National Strike, what has changed? Minister of state in the Ministry of Labour is setting up a mediation panel to review that matter. However we on the Margin hold out little hope for this. Both employers in this issue have been very firm in not wanting to rehire the workers, given the Union’s climbdown from the national strike, it seems unlikely that they are going to budge from their positions at this point. The union may well be forced to seek a deal for the best severance package available.

At the core of the Sandy Lane issue there seems to be a fundamental point on the legitimacy of the use of wildcat strikes. On Brass Tacks today noted HR consultant Elsworth Young seemed to suggest that wildcat strikes are a part of IR practice in Barbados. This would seem to be reflected by Sir Leroy Trottman’s views given earlier

The employers on their part seem to be taking the view that a collective agreement spells out procedures for handling grievances, and is binding on both parties, hence why should they accept conduct that is clearly outside of the scope of the agreement?
We on the Margin cannot help but feel that this entire incident is an example of how the system of volunteerism is becoming outdated as the Barbados industrial relations environment becomes more complex. Perhaps it is time to consider other options. One thing is clear… given the entrenched nature of the positions and the peculiarities of the entities involved, it seems that this is unlikely to end well for the workers in question.
Marginal

February 19, 2008

BREAKING NEWS – Strike Off – Union Backs Down

“Due to the newness of the government” BWU defers the pending strike action. However talks continue.

We’ll publish more details as we get them.

Marginal

February 18, 2008

Down to the wire….

A national strike does seem to be about to happen in Barbados, (barring a last minute settlement by the intervention of the  Prime Minister) In both cases of dispute (Sandy Lane and the Royal Shop) no one seems to be shifting their position. The intervention of the Chief Labour Officer does not seem to have moved the disputes closer to any form of resolution and that leaves only one other arbitrator available the Minister and Prime Minister David Thompson.

 

 

 The entrenched nature of the positions was highlighted by a story in today’s Nation which highlighted comments by Sir Leroy Trottman:

Sir Roy added: “Why could they not have said before, that it is indecent to fire these numbers of people for what is an everyday occurrence in this country, which the BWU helps to resolve in a matter of hours, but always in less than a day.

The Union’s position is an absolute, they are pressing for full reinstatement of all the workers in both cases. The mood in the private sector is considerably at variance with that expressed by Sir Roy. The BHTA has thrown it’s full support behind Sandy Lane, who seems to have taken the position that can be summed up in saying that if the workers do not honour the collective agreement in place there are consequences.
While Sir Roy may consider wildcat strikes to be an “everyday occurrence” to an employer a wildcat strike is incredibly disruptive and costly. One of the reasons for entering into a collective relationship is to ensure the incidence of strikes is minimised.
In the case of the Royal Shop, there appears to be a hardened resolve NOT to rehire the workers. The company is offering full severance, but is not budging on its position.
To us here on the margin, it appears that the Union may have erred tactically in going for a general strike. The Royal Shop and Sandy Lane may both take the position that the Union will suffer more loss of good will than they will if the strike goes ahead. Indeed, for Royal Shop a national strike will hardly make a difference to their current situation.
To stretch a metaphor we used in an earlier post; national strikes are like atom bombs, they are great weapons to threaten with, but actually using them makes both combatants losers.
It is unfortunate, but it would seem that we are about to see that played out before us.
Marginal

 

February 17, 2008

Does Barbados Need An Industrial Court?

I run a small business (approx. 10 employees) if this general strike comes off next week it will cost me a significant amount of money. I have no part in this BWU/Royal Shop/Sandy Lane, and yet I will suffer a direct economic consequence of what is a Union action! In theory the Union must carry some civil liability for this cost, but in reality there is no way that I can recover this cost.

Why should I (along with everyone else) be penalised for one company’s perceived intransigence? The threat of a general strike is irresponsible and shows why we need to have an industrial court in this country.

Small Business Owner

Above is a comment by a small business owner and he asks what in our opinion is a valid question.

Historically industrial relations in Barbados has relied on a system of volunteerism. That is that collective agreements aren’t actually legal contracts but are considered to be more along the lines of “gentlemen’s agreements”; that is that either side can breach the agreement at will. Collective agreements are usually enforced by the relative power of the union and the business owner. Now here’s the funny thing… as INSANE as this system may sound, in Barbados it has actually worked! While industrial courts are well established throughout rest of the Caribbean, we in Barbados continue to function on a volunteerism basis, and have had a relatively stable IR climate for a long period of time. ‘

Now of course there are certain features of the Barbados system that make this workable, you have a very small number of very large powerful unions, and you also have a relatively homogeneous private sector. This has meant that historically, everyone knew the rules and how the game was played and everyone was prepared to give and take to make the overall system work.

Now in 2008 we still have a small number of large unions, however the private sector is no longer as monolithic as it was in the past. We have new international investors, we have regional investors, we have relatively new local players. In short we have people who are accustomed to functioning a more “rules based” industrial relations culture. They don’t know how we play the game “’bout here”

This of course leads to all sorts of complications, issues of recognition, issues of wildcat strikes. The Sandy Lane Showdown is a prime example of this. Is there a penalty for workers breaching the collective agreement? Where historically local employers have accepted the occasional wildcat strike as par for the course, someone accustomed to an environment where collective agreements are contracts will expect to be able to terminate wildcat strikers for “abandoning the job”.

Issues such as this will continue to come up. So we on the margin ask the question

Is it time that we retired the volunteerism system?

Do we now NEED an industrial court?

We think it deserves serious consideration.

Marginal

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