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The BWU's 77th Annual Delegates' Conference

The 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference of the Barbados Workers’ Union opened at Union headquarters, “Solidarity House” on Saturday, 25 August, 2018, with addresses by the Prime Minister, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley and B.W.U. General Secretary, Senator Toni Moore. The Conference which is being held under the theme, “Delivering for All”, will end on Saturday, 1st September.

During the Prime Minister’s address, delegates got the opportunity to quiz her on a wide range of issues confronting the workforce as well as matters affecting the island as a whole.

The conference is being held in a very testing time, against the backdrop of the persistent downturn in the Barbados economy, the anticipated IMF programme and the threat of layoffs in the Public Sector, as a consequence Government’s announcement of phases two and three of its economic recovery and transformational plan.

Thus far, two of the six resolutions, slated for debate have been passed by the Conference. They are the theme resolution, “Delivering for All” and “Commercial Banking Charges”. On Saturday, delegates will debating the following resolutions: “Decent Work for Domestic Workers”, “Labour Education”, “Violence and Harassment at Work”, and “Quality Public Service”.

Apart from the addresses and the debates on the Conference resolution, the conference awarded six outstanding shop stewards for their meritorious contributions to the Barbados Workers’ Union. They were: Comrades Glener Lamontagne and Ingrid Corbin of the Child Care Board; Milton Griffith of the National Housing Corporation; Mary Vaughan of the Court Process Office and Roger Weekes of Hanschell Inniss for their work in sports development in the B.W.U.; and Washbrook Bayne for his many years of efforts as President of the B.W.U. Division at the Central Bank of Barbados and latterly, as Treasurer of the B.W.U.

At Saturday’s session, the B.W.U.’s three Vice Presidents, Comrades Carol Boyce of the Barbados Water Authority, Shawn Knight of Cable and Wireless and Howard Griffith of the Barbados Light and Power Company Limited, were re-elected. The President General Comrade Linda Brooks and the Treasurer, Comrade Winston Roach, were proposed, unopposed. The latter fills the seat, vacated by Washbrook Bayne who has retired after serving in that position for two decades.

Since we intend in this article to focus on the initial years of the B.W.U, it would be prudent for us to reflect on the emergence of the modern trade union movement. In Great Britain, trade unionism can trace its birth to the exigencies arising out of the Industrial Revolution. In Barbados, the dramatic upheaval in 1937 was responsible for the coming into being of the trade movement here and, by the time the nations were at war in 1939 there was developing the machinery of collective bargaining, by the Barbados Progressive League. In accordance with the advice of Sir Walter Citrine, the General Secretary of the British Trade Union Congress, who was a member of the Royal Commission which investigated the disturbances which occurred in Barbados in 1937, the B.W.U, from its inception, was organised into a number of divisions with a central executive, elected by the annual delegates’ conference which is the ultimate governing body of the Union.

Before the passing of the Trade Union Act in Barbados in 1939, the Barbados Progressive League had already organised several groups of workers on the island, but mainly in the urban area, and was actively engaged on their behalf. When the Trade Union Act came into force in August of 1940, bakers, printers, coopers, longshoremen, engineers, and seamen were ready to make a formal start.

The B.W.U.’s historic 1st Annual Delegates’ Conference was held at the B.W.U.’s then headquarters, located on the corner of Fairchild and Nelson streets, on the evening of the 28th of March, 1942. That building now houses the office of the B.W.U. Cooperative Credit Union Ltd. Present were: Grantley Herbert Adams, President in the chair, Hilton Augustus Coulston, Treasurer, J.T.C. Ramsay, Trustee, Hugh Worrell Springer, General Secretary, Cossie Greenidge, McDonald Brathwaite, O. Millington, E. Sandiford, R. Evelyn (Foundry Engineers), Gardiner Drakes, R. Oxley, E. L. Alleyne, B. Clarke, J. Dawe, F. Als, E Hackett, G. Bushell (Ships Carpenters). Excuses were made for the absence of J.B. Springer and Caleb Mose (Trustees) 

We invite you to take a careful note of the following:

  • The B.W.U. had a humble start: The First Annual Delegates’ Conference, unlike today’s annual delegates’ conferences, which are convened on two days, commenced at five o’clock in the evening.
  • The Conference was attended by eighteen delegates;
  • Only two divisions - the Foundry Engineers and the Ships’ Carpenters were in attendance;
  • The Minutes of the Conference were typed on one page.
  • In contrast to modern times when officers of the Union are employees, two of the three officers of the B.W.U. who attended that conference – Grantley Herbert Adams, now Rt. Excellent Sir Grantley, and Hugh Worrell Springer, now Rt. Excellent Sir Hugh, were attorneys-at-law and also president and secretary, respectively of the Barbados Progressive League, out of which the B.W.U. was born; Hilton Augustus Coulston, who was the Treasurer, and an elementary  school teacher was also a member of the Progressive League.
  • Three of the delegates to the conference, Grantley Adams, Hugh Springer and J.T.C. Ramsay were also elected to the House of Assembly. Adams went on to become the first Premier of Barbados and the Prime Minister of the ill-fated West Indies Federation; and Springer, in 1948, became the first Registrar of the University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica.

In order to demonstrate the phenomenal growth of the Barbados Workers’ Union over the past seven decades, you may take note of the fact that only eighteen delegates attended the 1st Annual Delegates’ Conference. In 2018, Forty six years later, 435 delegates and 180 observers have registered to participate in the B.W.U.’s 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference, representing 90 divisions, and the Union’s officers and other members of the Executive Council are elected from among the workforce. Also of note is the fact that the two areas from which the delegates of the first conference were drawn, the Central and Barbados Foundries and the Ships’ Carpenters, are now defunct.

The fact that Grantley Adams, Hugh Springer, Hilton Coulston, J.T.C. Ramsay and J.Barry Springer held high positions in the nascent B.W.U. resulted from the fact they were among the ranking figures in the Barbados Progressive League at the time, which along with the Congress Party, led by Wynter Algernon Crawford, was championing the cause of the working class.

Prior to the passing of the Trade Union Act in 1939, the League had organised various groups of workers into divisions with officers and committees. Upon the coming into force of the Trade Union Act in August of 1940, a subcommittee was formed to draft rules for the Union. The preliminary draft was revised and approved by a committee composed of representatives of the following divisions: Bakers, Coopers, Printers, Longshoremen, Engineers, and Seamen. These divisions were at the time active. The rules were then printed, amended in accordance with the requirements of the Registrar, and finally approved by him, and the Union registered on October 4, 1941.

The first officers were Grantley Adams, president, Hilton Coulston, treasurer, Hugh Springer, general secretary. The trustees were J.B. Springer, J.T.C. Ramsay, and Caleb Mose. The first members of the Executive Council were Cossie Greenidge, MacDonald Brathwaite, engineers), C. Gibson and A. Gibson (printers, Reynold Grant and Bourne (Longshoremen), C. Medford (Baker), O. Butcher, Dalrymple (Coopers), and Simmons (Seaman).

The 1st Annual Delegates’ Conference, as would be expected, dealt in a major way with matters which were germane to the two divisions – the Ships’ Carpenters and Foundry Engineers – which were the only divisions represented at the meeting. An indication of the early pains of the Union was reflected in the fact that only two divisions attended the conference. The delegates heaped much praise on the General Secretary, Hugh Worrell Springer. The Treasurer, Hilton Coulston thanked the General Secretary for the work he had performed on behalf of the Union and congratulated the Ships Carpenters and the Foundry Engineers, the two divisions who had shown great zeal and keenness. He deplored the lack of support of the other early divisions of the organisation. 

Cossie Greenidge, one of the foundry engineers, raised the theme which seems to characterise the behaviour of people of every generation. He was very critical of those workers who failed to cooperate and who only appeared to come together when there was prospect of immediate benefit.

R. Oxley, also of the Engineers division, while praising the General Secretary, Hugh Springer, for his work on behalf of the Union, appealed to the Union to build encouragement among the workers, some of whom he described as being disloyal, easy to be bought over, and who sought to discourage others who were willing.

The General Secretary was able to report a number of successes. He stated that the first activity of the B.W.U. was a negotiation between representatives of the Engineers and representatives of the management of the Barbados, Central and Bridgetown foundries under the chairmanship if the Labour Officer, as a result of which an appreciable improvement in wages and conditions of work were agreed upon. The Engineers were graded and a minimum wage fixed for each grade. The term of apprenticeship was regulated and regular examinations appointed to be held at stated intervals. Permanent machinery of conciliation was being prepared under the guidance of the Labour Officer.

The Union had also secured, by negotiations, substantial increases in pay, improvement in hours and sanitary conditions for the engineers at Vaucluse Sugar Factory. Negotiations were commenced on behalf of the Engineers at Porters Factory, but the lateness of the season and the lack of strength of the Union membership made it unwise to press for a settlement.

We are therefore able to note that from its nascent days the B.W.U. was able, through much sacrifice and hard work, committed leadership and the spirit of unity of its members, in a period when the masses were regarded as chattel, to start the process of social and economic transformation and bring about impressive and long-lasting change in Barbados.

 
77th Annual Delegates' Conference

Some 435 delegates and 180 observers have registered to attend the 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference of the Barbados Workers’ Union which will be held at Union headquarters, “Solidarity House” on Saturday, 25 August and Saturday, 1 September, starting at 9:00 .m. The conference which will be held under the theme, “Deliverance for All”, will hear addresses during the opening ceremony by Prime Minister, the Honourable Mia Amor Mottley and BWU General Secretary, Senator Toni Moore.

Apart from the theme resolution, the conference theme, the delegates will debate a number of other resolutions, among which are - “Decent Work for Domestic Workers”, “Labour Education”, “Violence and Harassment at Work”, “Quality Public Service” and “Commercial Banking Charges”.

The conference is being held against the backdrop of the persistent weakened state of the Barbados economy, the frightening spectre of an IMF programme and the anticipated lay-offs of public sector workers, following Government’s announcement of phases two and three of its economic recovery and transformational plan.

In its Report to the Conference, the Executive Council stated that it is emboldened and inspired that its believing that its mission of delivering a future for all that leaves no one in the shadows is one worth fighting for. However, the Council states that the Union is under no illusions about the gap that exists between what we have and what we want.

Specifically in its contributions to address the economic malaise of our country, the B.W.U. has been motivated by the need, among other matters, to urge government to make it easier for workers to join unions, advocate for more significant investment in public education; and urge government to institute a minimum wage that moves in line with inflation.

1. The BWU is urging Government to protect workers’ rights by calling on Government to enact legislation to make it easier for workers to join unions, penalise companies that violate labour laws, and mitigate the harmful effects of technology and globalisation on workers. We will continue to advocate for readying the workforce to operate within the context of technological advancement rather than punishing workers with unemployment or displacement because they have been ill-prepared to take on and respond to changes in the labour market.

The BWU looks forward to being able to contribute to workforce development through our educational offerings at the Frank Walcott Labour College. Our programming has been negatively impacted somewhat over the past years, even though the College still sought to maintain its relevance and reach in face of declining financial assistance through the subventions from the Government.

2.The BWU will continue to advocate for more significant investment in public education and targeted job training programmes to improve the prospects of educational attainment for all and o better prepare Barbadians for the work requirements of the 21st Century. In this regard, the BWU is pleased to have launched The Sir Roy Trotman Scholarship which provides assistance to those members or children of members who are desirous of pursuing courses of study t the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.

3.The BWU will also continue to push for the future we want; a future that does not allow the mindless offering of local jobs to others by obnoxious pretension that Barbadians lack the qualifications. This is not to say that the BWU does not recognise the value that exposure from outside influences can bring for the enhancement of our product offerings. However we have witnessed too many instances which suggest that the goal of improvement was not the driver of the decisions made to deny citizens opportunities for a better way of life through employment.

4.The BWU, in pursuit of its enduring fight for economic justice, will continue to urge the Government to institute a minimum wage that moves in line with inflation and that reflects also the standard of living in our country. however, the Unions fight for economic justice has always been understood by us to be more than advocating

5. The B.W.U.’s call has also been for tax reform that is more progressive and that is aimed at reducing inequality by capturing within the net those who are not paying the correct taxes, or who are not paying taxes at all and by ensuring that where tax shelters are provided, decisions to do so are on the basis of matching concessions with the value that will redound to the society as a whole.

6. The B.W.U. also recognises that it has to intensify its efforts to make workers aware of the role they must play in helping to achieve the objective of improvements for all. Workers, through their numbers and their strength, will be the ones that achieve the aim of having employers support equitable compensation, workforce development and worker advancement.

7. The incoming Executive Council will continue to urge Government to enact legislation to support parental leave and child care legislation. It is hoped that this would promote workers staying in the workforce, but more importantly, it would also achieve the much sought after business flexibility that a 24-7 economy could bring.

Whilst the foregoing commitments summarise some of the economic and social elements underpinning the agenda of the Barbados Workers’ Union for our country’s sustainable development and growth, the Annual Delegates’ Conference must also be made aware of the Union’s preoccupation with a number of issues that have been impacting Barbados’ environmental viability.

LINDA BROOKS HAS BEEN RETURNED UNOPOOSED AS PRESIDENT GENERAL

Comrade Linda Brooks has been returned unopposed as President General of the Barbados Workers’ Union and Comrade Winston Roach, a member of the Executive Council, who has been proposed unopposed as Treasurer, will assume that post following the retirement of Comrade Washbrook Bayne. Comrade Bayne who was elected to sit on the Executive Council in 1992 has held the post of Treasurer for nineteen years.

Four members have been nominated for the three positions of Vice President. They are Jacqueline Collis and the three incumbents – Carol Boyce, Howard Griffith and Shawn Knight.

The Trustees are Hugh Arthur, Lemuel Daniel and Ethrill Chrichlow.

Twenty four delegates are contesting the eighteen remaining seats on the Executive Council. They are – O’ Neal Adams, Frederick Bovell, Carol Boyce, Wesley Chase, Caleb Clarke, Henry Codrington, Jacqueline Collis, Hartley Davis, Jeffrey Grant, Grantley Green, Howard Griffith, Janice Griffith, Genevieve Harris, Carlton Hope, Kent Jerson, Shawn Knight, Geoffrey Mapp, Alphonso Pollard, Gerard Prescod, Desmond Roach, Rico Simpson, Maria Watkins, Dale Williams and Yolanda Yarde.

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

The Barbados Workers’ Union has stated that the financial and economic challenges which Barbados was forced to address across the nation presented themselves in equal measure as the Union battled through one of its most bitter periods in recent history.

In its report to its 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference, the BWU has stated that it has been calling on Government to take direct action in addressing the plight of the most vulnerable in Barbados, particularly security guards, service station attendants, shop assistants and domestic workers.

The Report noted that during the 2017 period, the Union was engaged in a number of battles within the security sector, and stated that organising workers within this sector had proven to be a major challenge owing to the continuous high level of turnover of workers, in addition to the pervasive fear of victimisation.

The Report also refers to the Union’s ongoing struggle with Cost-U-Less and Innotech. With regard to Cost-U-Less, the Report states that this company continues to challenge the established industrial elations practices of Barbados. It adds that the workers have pursued their legal and constitutional rights to associate by joining the Union but that the company had frustrated the Union’s efforts to bargain collectively on the behalf of the workers; and had gone further to deny workers, in pursuit of their employment rights, their entitlement to union representation.

The Report stated that the Union had referred the matter to the office of the Chief Labour Office, but that no meaningful action had been taken at that level, and efforts to have intervention at a higher level had not been successful.

With regard to Innotech Services Limited, the Report stated that Union is confronted by contradictions in the labour practice of that company which represent an insult to all citizens and residents who understand the Barbadian commitment to our Fair Practices Legislation.

The Report emphasises that Innotech, like all similar companies, especially in public works, should set standards and conditions no less favourable than when the Government itself embarks upon it. Workers should thus be entitled to all the labour rights and freedoms.

The Report informs that efforts to treat made by the Union during the past year have been met with hostility as the Union has sought recognition on behalf of the staff. The anti-union hostility has been all the more surprising given the level of company-government interaction.

The Union has reopened this matter with the new Administration with the same demand for justice and respect.

 

 
May Day 2018 - One With A Difference

Plans are afoot to make the May Day 2018 season one with a difference.

Yes! We will have our May Day street parade. Yes! We will have our May Day speeches and entertainment at Brown’s Beach, God willing, but we will add to those traditional events by organising a number of educational programmes which are designed to drive our economy. And we believe that May Day, being the workers’ day, provides an excellent opportunity to add to how we have been observing May Day in the past.

May Day is more than speechifying, fun and frolic; May Day is a time for serious reflection as to where we are as a people, where we want to go – and it is our hope that we, as a nation, would put aside the sectoral divisiveness and other partitions and use this year to drive Barbados forward.

So, during the five-month span of the forthcoming May Day season, beginning in March, the Barbados Workers’ Union, in conjunction with the Productivity Council, will be inviting the other social partners to team up with us to give substance to what the two organisations have conceptualised as a productivity improvement thrust. The intent of the productivity improvement thrust is to restart and reenergise national interest and emphasis on productivity in Barbados, especially among the key stakeholder drivers of the local economy - employers and workers.

The productivity improvement thrust is a progression of the work started in the year 2017 which was designated as “The Year of Productivity” under the theme – “A Productive People: a Productive Nation”. The theme which resonated with workers and employers implied that if people are productive, the nation will be productive. The theme was a call to action and was also a reminder that this pursuit of national excellence and future prosperity begins with individuals, and then as a collective, a community, a people.

It is our belief that if we are to have a productive people and a productive nation, several critical initiatives and actions must take place at different levels and phases including the following:

(a) igniting a basic awareness and understanding of workplace productivity to all players in the business environment and wider society;

(b) enhancing core competencies in productivity measurement, assessment and improvement in core individual players in existing and prospective leadership positions in organisations ; and

(c) designing, disseminating and applying productivity best practices (across measurement, assessment and improvement phases) throughout the key economic/industrial sectors including the government and private sectors

The specific initiatives that will be undertaken during the five-month period March to July 2018 will revolve around the following three pillars that are the core of any productivity improvement thrust. These pillars are –

a) productivity awareness,

b) productivity education; and

c) productivity best practices.

The core objectives of the exercise are to:

· build and sustain a deeper awareness of productivity, its guiding principles and relevance to individuals, businesses and the national economy – this will be done through programmes on productivity awareness;

· provide the necessary core competencies in productive improvement through practical training and educational workshops/seminars and educational opportunities to drive action among key players in leadership/management – this will be done through productivity education; and

· develop, adopt and apply a range of sustainable and workplace-friendly productivity best practices within organisations to promote positive change in their existing cultures, systems and operations to foster and sustain competitiveness, growth and success – this will be done through productivity best practices.

During the five-month period, these core objectives will be pursued, based on a range of planned initiatives, workshops/seminars and promotional events.

A number of partners and stakeholders from the various economic sectors and industries will be co-opted to actively participate in the planning, design and implementation of this thrust and its associated activities.

Among the outcomes which we anticipate will be achieved at the end of this period are:

- improved collaborative relationships and partnerships among the social partners, businesses and the wider public;

- sustained drive and thrust towards the application and evaluation of key productivity best practices across key industrial economic sectors in the country

- enhanced national and sectoral awareness of productivity and its relevance on an individual organisational and national scale;

- improved education and competencies in productivity improvement strategies and initiatives; and

- reenergised focus of managers and supervisors regarding the promotion .and the sustaining of productivity in the workplace

 
Training For Joint Safettyand Health Committees

If you are a member of a joint safety and health committee and you wish to improve your skills, the Barbados Workers’ Union has developed a training programme to assist you in your endeavour.

The BWU is hopeful that arising from this training, participants will progress towards TVET-sponsored NVQ and CVQ qualifications in Occupational Safety and Health.

Commencing Monday, March 12, The Barbados Workers’ Union start a series of training programmes at the Frank Walcott Labour College at Mangrove, St. Philip for members of joint safety and heath committees, with one seminar/workshop being held in each quarter of this year. The objective of the seminar/workshops is to strengthen the technical capacities of the joint health and safety committees, whose powers fall under section 103 of the Safety and Health at Work Act, 2005 – 12.

The BWU has sought the assistance of the Ministry of Labour through its Safety and Health Section, as well as the Ministry of Health through its Health Promotion Unit, Vector Control Division, the Nutrition Unit and the Psychiatric Hospital.

The training sessions, while taking a broad examination of the Safety and Health at Work Act, will undertake a more concentrated study on provisions in the Act, such as Risk Assessments, the Role of the Joint Safety and Health Committee, Accident Investigations, Inspections and Audits and Fire Safety. The seminar workshops will also deal with other workplace issues such as Mental Health and Work, Nutrition and Non-Communicable Diseases and Vector Control.

The union is paying special attention to joint safety and health committees, not merely because the SHaW Act mandates that these committees should be established in workplaces in Barbados where there are 25 or more persons employed, but because it is evident that some stakeholders in the workplace are unaware of a key proviso of the legislation demands, i.e. how joint safety and health committees should be made up, and how they should function.

The Safety and Health at Work Act informs us of the following:

Every employer in a workplace shall

(a) consult with his employees or their representatives for the purpose of developing measures to promote safety and health at such workplace; and

(b) make arrangement for the participation of the employees in the improvement and development of such safety and health measures.

The Act further informs that Consultation shall be affected as follows:

  • In workplaces where there are 25 or more persons employed, that consultation should be affected through the meeting of a health and safety committee consisting of representatives appointed by the employer and representatives appointed by the employees; and
  • In workplaces where there are less than 25 persons employed, and it is not practical to have a health and safety committee, consultation should be affected through one or more safety delegates appointed by the employees.

The health and safety committee shall meet no less than once a quarter and its records kept available for inspection.

Copies of all reports relating to the workplace safety and health conditions and the environment must be forwarded to at least one member of the health and safety committee, appointed by the employees.

Where there is a health and safety committee

(a) the committee shall comprise an equal number of employers and employees’ representatives;

(b) the employees’ representatives shall be appointed through their trade union or recognised staff association, where the employees are represented by such a trade union or staff association;

(c) the employees’ representatives shall be granted access to information relating to all workplace hazards and to all reports relating to the workplace environment;

(d) the employees’ representatives may conduct tests and take samples of hazardous materials

(e) the recommendations of the health and safety committee shall, if practicable, be implemented.

(f) It shall be the duty of the Chief Labour Officer to resolve any issues relating to the practicability of any recommendations made.

(g) Any declaration by the Chief Labour Officer in that regard shall be conclusive.

Nowhere in the Act is it stated that the employers have the right to elect or select employees to sit on the joint safety and health committee, or vice versa. And whilst the Act is silent with regard to the chairmanship of the committee, it does not mean that either side has the right to chair the committee or sit in the seat of the secretary for eternity. Those posts should be alternated so as to allow for democracy and harmony to prevail.

 
BWU Health Programme for 2018

The Barbados Workers’ Union closed the year 2017 by approaching the position where it has planned to place the health of the Barbadian workforce in the year 2018.

During the month of November, 2017, the BWU, in association with a number of departments in the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Health, conducted a one-week training programme at its headquarters, “Solidarity House”, for some thirty members of joint safety and health committees from workplaces drawn from the Public and Private Sectors. The aim of the seminar/workshop was to build the technical capacities of the participants with a view to enabling them to have a clearer understanding of those occupational safety and health issues which impact on the workforce and which would empower them better to apply the knowledge they learnt to deal with the issues.

We in the BWU recognise that, as a result of retirement and attrition, many of the workers whom we had trained over time are no longer in the workforce. In addition, we have found that the current crop of workers and employers’ representatives who sit on joint safety and health committees, are not sufficiently knowledgeable about the Safety and Health at Work Act, nor are they sufficiently apprised of the tremendous human and financial burden imposed on the workforce by public health issues such as non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – stroke, diabetes and cancers; mental health issues like stress, anxiety and depression or vector issues such as dengue fever, Zika and Chikungunya.

During the November seminar/workshop we were privileged to benefit from the assistance provided by the safety and health officers in the Safety and Health Section in the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Health, through the Community Nutrition Centre, the Polyclinics and the Psychiatric Hospital, as well as the Barbados Fire Service.

We therefore sought to examine how we, as a union, could empower the joint health and safety and committees, which are mandated by the Safety and Health at Work Act, by teaching them , firstly, to understand their role under that piece of legislation as well as to carry out their functions, effectively, for example on issues such as the rudiments of assessing risks in the work environment. We dealt also with fire safety, and examined, as well, how healthy diets, physical activity and quitting smoking can prevent and/or reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and cancers. We benefited from informative presentations from two psychiatrists from the Psychiatric Hospital on Mental Health: What it is and what it is not and how to cope. Those presentations were literal eye openers for the participants as some of them were hearing information on this subject for the first time.

The BWU’s focus on mental health stems from the fact that mental health problems constitute the largest single source of world economic burden, with an estimated global cost of 1.6 trillion pounds or US $2.5 trillion – greater than cardiovascular diseases, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, or diabetes, individually, according to the the UK’s Mental Health Commission.

The workers who benefited from that training were counselled to return to their respective workplaces and assist in the training of their fellow members. Our plan is to conduct one such course for joint safety and health committees in each quarter of the coming year and we have written to the respective Ministries, in respect of their support to supply presenters for these programmes.

Those of you who have been following the Barbados Workers’ Union’s approach to occupational safety and health over the past twenty years, would have recognised, by now, that while we have retained a strong emphasis on industrial safety and health, the focus has been towards a holistic approach to workplace safety and health, hence the adoption of public health issues in our programmes that include infectious and non-communicable diseases (NCDs). Illnesses and absences are costly to the workers, enterprises and the national economy.

So what are the factors that have influenced the upsurge in NCDs? A recently-published report by the NCD Alliance and the Novartis Foundation notes, among other factors, that the way we live our lives is changing. Worldwide the ways in which we learn, work, travel and play are becoming more sedentary. What we eat is shifting away from the traditional diets and towards meals, snacks and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar and low in nutrients. The report added that pollution, indoor and outdoor, as well as urbanisation were among the factors that led to poor health.

According to the Report, the most effective workplaces are those that foster a culture of health throughout the organisation, covering a range of conditions, including the major NCDs: cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, diabetes and mental and neurological disorders. These diseases have shared risk factors – including tobacco use, unhealthy diets, physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol – and addressing any given risk factor the workplace will effectively reduce the burden from multiple diseases.

The report explained that reducing exposure to these risk factors is also beneficial for other conditions, including obesity, some infectious diseases, and musculoskeletal disorders. Conversely the fact that multiple diseases have roots in, or are exacerbated by, the same risk factors leads to many individuals living not only with one disease, but two or more – referred to as ‘co morbidities’ – which necessitates a fully comprehensive and tailored approach to workplace health. For example, obesity is a risk factor for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and for musculoskeletal disorders – and can increase the likelihood of accident or injury at work. Creating an environment, within which everyone is supported to adopt healthy lifestyles, will empower employees to take control of their weight without stigma or discrimination, potentially reducing accidents and injuries as well as lowering individual’s risk of disease.

NCDs kill 40 million people each year – this figure equates to 70% of all deaths globally. Fifteen million of these deaths occur between the ages of 30 and 70 years – a period which should be the prime productive years of employment. Over 80% of these premature deaths occur in low and middle income countries (LMCIs).

NCDs, primarily cardiovascular diseases, cancers, respiratory diseases, diabetes and mental health and neurological disorders share common causes. And tackling four risk factors – tobacco use, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and unhealthy diets – can lower the risk of these diseases. NCDs have a profound economic impact beyond the personal suffering they cause, nationally, NCDs place increased strain on health systems; while businesses are faced with economic losses due to absence from work, presence at work but not working at full capacity (presenteeism) and the loss of valued employees due to early retirement or death.

Workplaces offer an excellent setting for NCD prevention and management, in particular in LMICs where the provisions of care for chronic diseases are still limited. In this context, workplace health programmes can benefit broader society and communities beyond employees.

Now you may ask, why is it that the BWU expends so much energy and time on occupational safety and health and wellness? As we have stated earlier, apart from the fact that the human and money costs of illness and absences, as they relate to the individual worker, businesses and the state is overwhelming, we believe that being able to present well evidenced information is vital to inspire people to advocate for the changes that can make a difference - and this needs to take place at the levels of the home, the school, the workplace, the communities and nationally. And that is why we in the Barbados Workers’ Union have been working over the past year to develop a national wellness policy, which we plan to roll out during the 2018 Week of Excellence programme in late February.

A document, on the theme, “Tackling non-communicable diseases in workplace settings in low and middle-income countries – a call to action an practical guidance” takes a detail examination on NCDs and their impact on families, people living with NCDs, businesses, local communities and nationally.

  • Nationally, NCDs increase strain on health systems, and lower taxes from people not at work impact on services such as health and defence – and economic growth is dependent on a healthy workforce
  • Families of people living with NCDs endure serious or catastrophic out-of-pocket spending on health where there is no social protection
  • Intergenerationally, when young people are removed from school to care for family members with a NCD, this impacts on their education and potentially long-term health (educational attainment is a known social determinant of health);
  • People living with NCDs may find it harder to find work due to discrimination, and productivity may be lower (a study in Latin America found that people affected by NCDs work three to six per cent fewer hours per week than the average).
  • Businesses lose the time and skills of valued employees. In Brazil, China, India and the Philippines, absenteeism and presenteeism alone cost over two per cent of each country’s GDP. The cost of early retirement exceeds this ranging from 3.4 % to 5.1% in the same countries. In Brazil, these costs are set to rise to a total of 8 per % in 2030.
  • Local communities are impacted since people in work tend to spend their wages in their locality – unemployment therefore affects the neighbourhood economy.

Barbados is at an admirable position to effectively fight the NCD peril but it will take an all of Barbados effort to do so. Barbados has the expertise to do so, both a the level of the Ministry of Health and Civil Society bodies such as the Healthy Caribbean Coalition (HCC), led by Professor Sir Trevor Hassell and local organisations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Diabetes Foundation, Barbados Diabetes Association. But it will take the “will” to forge inter-ministerial cooperation to get commercial Barbados and the schools on board in the war against NCDs. We have to find ways by which we can get the message to the schools, beginning at the kindergarten level as well as the parent-teacher associations. There is need also for greater cooperation between the various local health bodies and greater commitment towards unifying these bodies to bring about meaningful and fundamental change. That struggle must be continued at the level of the workplace where trade unions and employers must unify to initiate workable solutions to deal with issues such as nutrition, coordinated physical activity and psychological issues such as stress.

 
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