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Government's Restructuring
Wednesday, 31 October 2018 08:47

The Executive Council of the Barbados Workers’ Union is aware that the subject of retrenchment is always certain to be one which raises high emotional issues, especially at a time where household disposable incomes for some time, have been under significant strain from direct and indirect taxes.

The Union is on record as saying that retrenchment where it even impacts one person, is disheartening. At the level of the Social Partnership, where several discussions have been held since the end of May this year, there has been much discussion surrounding whether retrenchment was even necessary to achieve the desired levels of recovery and sustainability.

The BWU has been constrained to consider and accept a number of difficult alternatives, including the proposal to undertake a retrenchment exercise across the public sector, in the effort to maintain a number of critical positions, not least of which is protecting the Barbados dollar from devaluation. The BWU, accepts the position that the devaluation of the Barbados dollar would have far worse implications for all concerned.

To date, the retrenchment exercise in the public sector has not impacted large numbers of BWU members directly. However, even where there have been a few impacts to our constituents, the BWU has been concerning itself with the way in which the process has been handled. Moreover, the BWU has been preoccupied with gathering information from our displaced members regarding their skills and interests to see how they can benefit from anticipated opportunities in the shortest possible time.

Our issue has not been with what was done, but rather, the way it was done; particularly since, the approach to the retrenchment exercise to date, has not been consistent with what was agreed at the level of the Social Partnership.

As the BWU prepares itself for a series of meetings where retrenchment is contemplated across several State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) where the BWU is the accredited representative of the workers, we remain very mindful and attentive to the approaches which we must protect against if fairness is to be guaranteed.

For instance, the SOEs are governed by the Employment Rights Act and so, we will ensure that discussions are guided by the provisions of the Act as well as by the agreements reached at our Social Partnership meetings.

One such area of consideration relates to the BWU’s insistence on Last-In-First-Out LIFO), which is the selection method which the Social Partnership agreed would be applied to the retrenchment exercise. The proposal is that that criteria would be amended only where it could be shown that its use compromised the retention of existing skills; skills that are not present elsewhere within the public sector.

The BWU, like others within the Social Partnership accepts that generally, there are better methods which can be used to differentiate employees on the basis of assessment to ascertain where they possess the desired levels of efficiency, ability, skills, capacity, experience, attitude to work, productivity etc…

However, we have had to accept that within the public sector, there has been no such system of measuring those variables which has been applied in a uniform, consistent and reliable manner. Yes, there is the PRDS, but its effective application across the public sector has been observed more in the breach than by application.

The BWU maintains that any attempt to apply these criteria now, where formal assessments had not been undertaken, would lend to greater subjectivity and flaw; more so than the use of LIFO. This is simply because one would now have to rely on the persons making the selection, who themselves, with the best will, may be predisposed to exercising biases. For the system not to be flawed, there would have to have been an awareness beforehand of the criteria which would be used in circumstances such as retrenchment and further, there would have to be a built-in system for employees to challenge any conclusions drawn.

The BWU would not allow Government now to turn to past deficiencies or misdemeanours to select employees for retrenchment, without insisting that employees should be given reasonable opportunity to answer charges relating to work performance or conduct. At the very least, employees would need, on an individual basis, to be given the opportunity to respond before final assessments could be submitted on them.

The BWU recognises that LIFO could also lead to the exit of some of the best employees and that will happen because there is no system that is without flaw. However, within the context of the current retrenchment exercise in the public sector, and given the absence of any formalised, consistently applied system of appraisal, it must be seen as the best alternative of what there is available.

So, as the BWU commences retrenchment discussions for the SOEs, we remain very anxious to ensure that there is a transparent process of assessment which honours the agreed criteria and methodologies which have been discussed and accepted at the level of the social partnership.

To our members, we are relying on you to walk with us through this very difficult exercise.

Toni Moore
General Secretary, BWU


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