|Sir Roy's Farewell Address|
|Friday, 19 September 2014 11:31|
On Saturday, August 30, 2014, Comrade Senator Sir Roy Trotman delivered his final address as General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union at the 73rd Annual Delegates’ Conference, before a packed Sir Hugh Springer Auditorium, at “Solidarity House”.
Sir Roy spoke to an audience which included the Honourable Richard Sealy, Acting Prime Minister, members of the Opposition, as well as members of the Diplomatic Corps, business leaders, and delegates to the conference.
Sir Roy retired after from the post of general secretary after twenty-two years in that position and forty-three years as a member of the staff of the BWU. the following is his speech.
The occasion cannot present itself better than it does now for me standing publicly before you to praise and to thank God for choosing me as a vehicle and using me as a means of assisting in his instruction to Peter to “feed His sheep”. We are all HIS sheep.
I wish next to thank the institution of Employers for recognising that a successful Barbados lay then, and still lies today, in the respect for, and adherence to, our neighbour’s rights which employers and workers alike have first to exercise as persons.
My respectful thanks are extended to our Heads of State for favouring the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) with the gracious acknowledgement of Their Excellencies that the task of nurturing did not, as the fickle think, rest only in the periodic adjustment of wages or salaries. Their Excellencies’ elevation of the main spokesman for Labour to the Senate was highly appreciated.
Governments over the years, including Parliaments and Opposition parties and Public Service bureaucracies, all contributed to our effort to be faithful to our instruction. Of course there had to be differences and though, perhaps once or twice, I may have called it wrong, it is accepted that public servants, generally, have assisted the masses and our BWU as leader in that group.
Thanks to them.
Our BWU constitution is not one for which the public is under compulsion to join and, under punishment, for renouncing. Those thousands who have joined did so willingly and have our thanks for their support; those who left us have our appreciation for whatever contribution they made to the cause of Labour.
Whether it was to remove discrimination or to involve those who are excluded; whether it was our effort to promote the cause of the disabled or to develop affirmative action for women and for the youth; whatever the challenge, we have been relentless in our efforts and fortunate in the degree of support we got from the Barbados masses. We have spearheaded the fight to have our Barbadians, who left our shores, treated with dignity and, in accordance with universal Human Rights; we have and we continue to champion the cause of those migrant workers who seek to find DECENT Work within our shores. We did not have to fight alone. My thanks to all who assisted.
In much of this we were confronted by fear, by selfishness, greed and arrogance. None the less we are grateful that those lambs were fed as part of the wealth we were directed to protect. In our Organisation these are but some of our thousand responsibilities. They will not be abandoned, we promise you.
This is not the moment for an historical account of the birth and development of a trade union umbrella body. It is one however for me to reflect on the fact that some of us captured and held the vision that underscores the mantra that UNITY IS STRENGTH and that ‘where there is no vision the people perish.’
I will be eternally grateful for those who saw the expanded role of the organisation, rather than the personal advantage, and who faced the cynicism and, regrettably, the hostility of loved ones as they pursued that vision. In my case part of my sacrifice a political constituency which was considered reasonably represented and which I might comfortably have retained. For those other visionaries who also made sacrifices I solemnly thank you all, including those who have preceded us on life’s ultimate journey.
Mr. Tweedledum and those others who helped us toil to create a National organisation to unite Labour should be praised. To mention names here would be ungracious and unkind. Limited by human frailty I am bound to omit some Officer or, better, some deserving foot soldier whose name should go the top of the list. Instead just let me thank all who helped.
We grouped; we did a good thing for Barbados; our nation benefitted and was listed as an example to follow.
Thanks to all of you in the Trade Unions who helped.
I have especially to thank my own Barbados Workers’ Union. The Executive Council noted my work organising, negotiating and, also noted Sir Frank’s open pronouncement that I should succeed him. This was a humbling experience. The unanimous vote that was cast to effect my elevation has for me been equalled only by my daily effort, under God, to be always worthy of your trust.
Yes, there were days when the rudder either grew heavy in my hands or was tugged ungenerously to the side, and the even course of my steerage suffered. I am happy to report that, although we do not have a perfect record, we, by and large, managed to weather the storms. With the help of membership, shop stewards, the Executive Council and good maps, we have berthed the ship which will now continue its journey under new captaincy. The maps were diligently prepared by those pioneers who sailed before. We should never abandon them.
The final word in this section must go to Margaret, Lady Trotman and to Paula and Lesley our two gifts from God. The children, no doubt, would tell you of late pick ups from school, or of cold shoulders, or unkind words from fellow pupils and, often, from teachers. On the other hand, they attended organising meetings in prams and soon learnt to out manoeuvre their father as negotiators. Margaret’s position was no easier at work, after work waiting for my late pick up or, scandalously, on those family group occasions when her husband would leave, sometimes in the middle of a meal, to keep some hotel open on Christmas, or to ensure that a ship exploiting third world sailors could proceed out of the harbour with the sailors’ cause adequately resolved.
To the three of them I offer my own Gold Crown of Merit.
This occasion should be one when the listener would allow me some latitude. I feel however that there is much that I wish to ask you to reflect on and that I cannot yield to the temptation to dream.
I wish to speak particularly to the Barbados Social Partnership in the expectation that some parties may find occasion for reflection, and some will be able to clarify and correct some aspects of their labour Management approach to the world of work.
Just on the fringe of the decade of the 1990s. Three of us got together at what was then Sandy Beach Hotel, Worthing, Christ Church. John Stanley Goddard, later knighted, D’Arcy Boyce, then a Director of Peat Marwick & Company and Yours truly. You may easily understand Sir John and me; so I have to state briefly that Honourable D’Arcy Boyce and his Senior Partner Mr. Ken Hewitt were age old advisors of the BWU as they were of several other businesses on the island.
We all felt the fierce grip of the changing economic and financial times. I was not yet elected as General Secretary; I was merely designated. But we felt that the issues before us could not wait.
We started a relationship which took root and grew daily until John Stanley was taken away. Both Sir John and I came to rely quite heavily on D’Arcy up until the present day. A few weeks ago when the BWU was faced with the question from Prime Minister Stuart regarding where the Union stands in the Social Partnership, D’Arcy was there as Minister Boyce. He reminded us that there is and ought to be more that would bring us together as a Barbadian nation than what seeks to separate us. Oh, that we would all make that our Declaration of faith.
I do not propose to dwell on our early meetings. I wish merely to say that we had no IMF crisis that was declared; but we had our fears and the overarching sense of destiny. Something was going to overtake us and capital and Labour had to position ourselves to weather what ever storm would come.
You may want to cast your minds back:
1. At the beginning of the 1990’s the Uraguay round of trade facilitation was essentially winding down and the business leaders of large economies were looking forward to Marrakesh (1994) and thereafter to the Singapore Summit which brought the World Trade Organisation into being in 1996.
2. At this time too, without necessarily intending to produce the results that they did, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank created and implemented a set of one-size-fits-all-measures which were intended to put all developing and underdeveloped countries in their places.
Naturally this was not the stated objective. History will tell us that the developing world was struck by a debt crisis; it will advise that the crisis led to the application of structural adjustment programmes.
History will go on to proclaim that these programmes failed, sometimes suggesting that the fault lay with the country rather than with the policy. Everyone was supposed to lower barriers to imports, remove restrictions on foreign investment, reduce the role of the state in the economy, reduce spending on social welfare and emphasize production for export.
These challenges were as fierce then as they are now. They were new then.
As happens whenever a major change is contemplated we all have to concern ourselves with what the implications will be for us. Would world trade be really free trade? And would that free trade be fair trade, seen through the eyes of a Caribbean person?
The World Economic Forum was simultaneously bringing together the financial and commercial giants of the world, and we were being made to sing a new song: this time it was that the size of the fish in the pond was not going to be the determinant factor; the fast fish would eat up the slower fish.
And then too there was the recognition that a new wave of technology was upon us; those countries, those companies which could more speedily adapt to technological changes would propel themselves into riches, presenting decided comparative advantages. The new revolution was bound to lead to differences in speed, in relationships, in power and economic success.
We did not know; no one could tell! We recognised however change was about to take place. This was going to result in something of relevance and importance to Barbados, even if we were left to speculate on the character and structure.
None of us three sought to discuss our individual gains or losses; we were concerned with how we could best pool our thinking and our connections into a framework that would position us to assist business and Labour to treat with the changes in the optimal manner possible.
When in July 1991 Prime Minister Sandiford made his plan for a national response therefore there was already some level of appreciation for action which would lead the nation, above and beyond the self, in any response to levels which transcended personal or sectoral interests.
Many leaders in business, many political leaders, I do not say all, and labour responded not merely to the July call but to the wider recognition of the need for change. We were able to experience a new dynamic: Government leaders business leaders and labour leaders in serious, major consultations devising strategies that previously may have been the special preserves of individual interest groups.
I think of this and I am humbled by the feeling that what was done was good. No one up the hill or down the hill will convince me that the action was anything other than the seizure of a moment in time to rise to the call to help.
You will hardly ever hear representatives of the Employers or of Trade Unions seeking to make believe that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the only United Nations agency which holds interest. You will note however that it is respected as the only agency where the views of persons other than spokespersons for Government are given weight.
Over the past ninety five years this weightiness of the ILO has made itself felt; since at every critical stage of the development of the World of work, representatives of ministries of Labour have been able to recognise the value of meaningful examination of the conditions under which each phase of development could or should take place.
Different persons may have said it differently over the 95 years: but it is as true today as when the World leaders sought to find a way to express their will not to fan the fires of World War One. Those leaders declared that “lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice.”
This has to do with creating jobs and it has to do with increasing income. But it has to do with much more. Social-justice relates to Rights, to dignity and to Respect and a voice for the working person. Of course Social justice must also treat the social economic and political empowerment of the many rather than the privileged few.
When Sir Lloyd Erskine started his series of tripartite social exchanges I think it would be fair to say that the will to work together was good. The initial social dialogue mind set was in place and we had already managed to have some preliminary work done with the Barbados Employers’ Confederation and the Barbados Workers’ Union for the parties in the hotel industry.
Now more than twenty-one years have passed. Those who will may ask the valid question: Did Barbados at any level benefit from the initiative? Did the Workers derive any benefits? What of the owners of capital? Was our nation able to speak in more compelling tones at home and abroad, and was this a plus or a minus?
I will be the first to admit that the Workers’ side in the partnership had on several occasions to pull back, as it were, from the brink when it would have been more exciting and exhilarating and costly to adopt the elemental response which impressed itself on our organisation.
My more senior advisers joined me in agreeing instead to suffer with little comment the vicious barbs aimed for the more sensitive pasts of our anatomy. And yet we knew and demonstrated that we remained faithful throughout to those visions we held of a better Barbados, a caring sharing countryside where the fields and hills around were truly our own. Thus we sought in our treatment with Government and capital to ring-beam the vital interest of the worker. For example, we have insisted over the years that “Labour shall not be required to vary the benefits and conditions which it currently enjoys, unless it is for immediate general improvement or if, by any such variations, Labour assists in effecting the long-term improvement in the conditions of those employed and creates jobs for the unemployed…”
We also spent considerable time, but we were successful in establishing the worker’s right to social dialogue at the workplace, particularly when his given rights or benefits were challenged. That right to prior consultation and the obligation for the parties to meet to see whether other means of handling financial or structural set backs, rather than retrenchment, were important gains for the workers and for the Bajan community as a whole.
There were gains, too, from the efforts which were taken to have the entire nation meet at regular intervals to reflect not only on the economic growth of the country but also the social development. In my view there were occasions when we were all made to feel that social justice was an attainable objective, and that Bread, Peace, Democracy and Equal Opportunity were achievable.
Today we stand in reflection of that yesterday and we ask ourselves, I ask myself, whether we had been dreaming. Was there really a period of good change? Was it noticeable and measureable? Was it supernatural or could we honestly point to ourselves and say “yes”, it was natural; we did it and we can do it again?
Judging from our human recall, it must be admitted that there may have been several COMICS among us, but there were no COMETS seen; and yet, there was change. Our neighbours, even as we meet here, openly admit that Barbados, for a moment, followed an order that, even now, they are trying to emulate. Larger countries across the Globe have lauded us for our initiative. The I.L.O. itself has not only studied our model of Tripartite Social Dialogue towards a social partnership; but it has pointed us out as the good I.L.O. model of Tripartism in Social Dialogue.
The Executive Council of The Barbados Workers’ Union has decided that the matter of the Social Partnership should become an integral part of our discussions and our planning for the way forward. It is sound at this stage for us to examine the extent to which the BWU will be in a position to enter as freely and as willingly into those previous relationships.
The question that has to be debated is whether we are satisfied in the Barbados Workers’ Union with the level of the relationship or, the extent to which the employer, as a body, is relating to the workers in what we perceived more than twenty-years as a relationship which would help to grow the entire country? Can we continue to be satisfied in circumstances where leaders of that said employers’ group, when it suits their purpose, will ridicule the social partnership and refuse to honour the commitments that that group gave to the partnership relationship two decades ago? And can we be serious in believing that there will be benefits for us when there is the frequency which we are now experiencing of employers who at the same time that they wish to be in the forefront of the dialogue, where the public is concerned, then find themselves in a position where they reject the very foundation stones of the partnership or treat them with disregard in one form or the other.
There are far too many examples which the Barbados Workers’ Union is forced to bring to the attention of the Chief Labour Officer, or, as in the Public Service, is forced to bring to Government ministers, and, indeed, permanent secretaries in their various departments: Where rights that have been accepted over time as rights of workers, where practices that have been honoured over time as practices over which there should be no dispute, where issues of that sort become the day to day occupation of our officials - several of those matters, which could make the worker enjoy a more comfortable relationship at his place of work, are becoming issues for confrontation; the work environment for some is being treated like a war zone.
It would take too much time on an occasion such as this one for the BWU publicly to recite all of those occasions and all of those issues which, put together, give the appearance that there are several employers, I do not say all, who seem to believe that the crisis we are currently experiencing presents an ample opportunity for them to push back the hands of time, take back by force those conditions and benefits that workers have struggled to earn, reduce the dignity of work, and the respect that the worker demands at the workplace.
Life will be better for all of us if we are in a position as a country to turn around our economic fortunes and to see ourselves return to a period of wealth creation. I believe that the employer class, those officials of Government who reject the workers’ rights and those workers among us who themselves may not believe fully in those rights must work together. I believe that we will be making a serious mistake if we think that that turnaround can be done, and can be sustained, in circumstances where the worker does not feel confident that she and he are sharing in the fruits of that new wealth that will be created. It is because the BWU is not satisfied that we are all showing, demonstrating that commitment; it is because we are confronted almost on a daily basis by areas and instances of anti-worker and anti-union initiatives by employers and by officials in the Public Service, including ministers of Government; it is because of these unsettling circumstances that we have before us the resolution which I wish to share with our public and to discuss.
That resolution, is not one that says that the Barbados Workers’ Union wants to abandon those courses which we adopted 20 years ago; it does not say that this organisation believes that it was duped at the outset and that it remained blindfolded. We knew that there would be times where the partners would endeavour each to get maximum benefits for their groups; but we were of the view that there were safeguards built into the partnership which allowed the other two sides to pull back the third side where the third side was going off the rail. We believed then, and we still can show, how we have in the past been able to re-establish balance and redirection for the partnership when one or other of us was not travelling along a route that we considered to be satisfactory.
Today, however, both at the level of the Public Sector, including with Government officials, and bureaucrats and at the level of the Private Sector, the BWU is made to feel that its members are important when they can give but when they demand that they share, then they get the sense that they are not welcome.
The Resolution reads in part RECALLING that the dignity and respect due to the working person was acclaimed at the Declaration of Philadelphia when members of the ILO in 1944 declared, inter alia, that
a) Labour is not a commodity
NOTING that with the increasing importance being grven to trade and to banking that the value of the worker and the wealth of his/her labour brought those fundamental work place principles under duress; and
RECOGNISING how new efforts have had to be found by the ILO, using its unique character, role and structure to maintain the fight for FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES and Rights at Work, including
• The right to associate freely and to bargain collectively
SATISFIED however that the new wave of globalisation and trade liberalisation with the proliferation of Multinational Companies, required that the ILO's message should be made to reverberate across the entire United Nations system; and
BEING AWARE that the Heads of States and Governments at the 2005 United Nations World Summit stated that "We strongly support fair Globalisation and resolve to make the goals of full and productive employment and decent work for a1l, including women and young people, a Central objective of our relevant national and international policies as we1l as our national development strategies"; and
CONSCIOUS that this UN Commitment has provided a significant moral flooring for Workers' unrelenting efforts to obtain Social Justice in a work environment which is subject to daily slippage and erosion;
AWARE that THE BARBADOS WORKERS' UNION has to position itself where it can usefully exercise all of its influence within its extended family relationships to maximise its benefits through social dialogue;
BEING RESOLUTE that the BWU should maintain its practical critical support for a Tripartite Social Partnership based on ILO principles and geared towards the resolve of the Declaration of Philadelphia (1944) and UN World Summit Resolution (2005).
We are going very soon to embark on a change of guards and those new guards are of the view that they should use as their theme, “Together Towards Tomorrow.” In that theme, they have not been thinking only of the workers going forward; they have dared to believe that, in that movement forward, they may be able to count on government officials who ever the government is and public sector officials, whoever they are by name, to work fervently to govern that relationship. They are of the view that the employers have as much at stake as they do, and those employers should be willing to recognise that none of us is able to walk the road alone. And so they dared to believe that there can be a return to togetherness.
But if that will be so, and if the Barbados Workers’ Union’s new Executive is indicating by its resolutions a willingness to stand ready to extend an arm of friendship, an arm of social partnership, it must be recognised that it cannot be on the terms that currently exist.
The BWU is of the view that after more than seventy years this organisation BWU should not be struggling all over again for simple things like the right to represent workers. We should not be having occasions where, as is happening now, employers are pretending that the Employment Rights Act gives them a right or an opportunity, or, perhaps an excuse to avoid relating to the Union and to by-pass the collective agreement because the law by some sentence is not seen by them as a piece of legislation which is fitting together. They are using the occasion as one where they might re-introduce conditions of employment less salutary, less healthy, than they were a decade or more before.
This Conference in August 2014 represents an occasion where the BWU in signaling that it is proceeding under a new team to travel the course for the enhancement and improvement of workers’ conditions. We wish to signal that that new course can be a course where the parties can work together. The BWU is willing to exercise functional cooperation and to give critical support whether it is to employers or whether it is to governing parties, but the message has to be clearly made today and into the future that too much that is not clear, too much that is hostile, too much that is unfriendly towards the Worker, is being demonstrated during these days.
And if we are intending to move forward then one must not expect that there will be “give” by the workers and take, but only take by governments or by the employers. The charge, the challenge, the major question is – is Barbados and that is to say, are those other players in the social partnership prepared equally to indicate that they are ready to walk together with us towards tomorrow?