Business Page – September 1st, 2002


The Barbados Social Compact – Model for Guyana?

 (PART 2)

Business Page today concludes its reproduction of an article done by Dr. P. I. Gomes, a Guyanese attached to CARICAD, which first appeared in Caricom Perspective No. 69 Vol. II, July 2000 and which is also included in Kenneth O. Hall’s The Caribbean Community: Beyond Survival. Part 1 last week reviewed the circumstances leading up to Protocol 1 and dealt with that Protocol at some length. Today we return to Dr. Gomes’ presentation which is updated with Protocol IV which was signed earlier this year.

Protocol Two (1995-97)

The encouraging success of what amounted to a national adjustment process, in rejection of an IMF demand for a currency devaluation, provided an attitudinal platform on which to explore the main tenets of Protocol 2. The preamble of this protocol stated that the tripartite approach to industrial relations has been a vital component of a Barbados macroeconomic pro­gramme for the realisation of sustained economic growth and development through increased competitiveness.

Among seven factors in the protocol, responsible for reversing the gradual erosion of Barbados competitiveness, four should be highlighted for their significance and applicability, as prerequisites for sustainable economic growth and development, in all CARICOM member states. These are:

  • Establishment of an environment of greater dialogue among the Social Partners within which fundamental issues of economic and social policy may be discussed;

  • Stability and sustainability of the industrial relations climate.

  • Opportunities for improved access to employment, thereby reducing the risk of social dislocation, particularly among young people;

  • National commitment to improve productivity increase efficiency, reduce wastage and enhance performance in the economy.

Such factors should not be treated as hard and fast rules or magical principles. They were the outcome of a process of building national commit­ment, in the context of a vision for sustained economic growth, and develop­ment of a service economy which was being restructured for competitiveness in the face of intense, international trade liberalisation.

The capacity to resolve the conflicting demands of a traditionally strong commercial class and dominant tourism sector, with the majority of Barbadi­ans occupying low-paying jobs on the one hand, and a dynamic and well-or­ganised union movement, on the other hand, was severely tested. Business interests were represented by a private sector agency, as an umbrella body, while the labour movement had been consolidated under the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB)

For Protocol Two, the social partners made explicit references to circum­stances in which the contrasting interests of business and labour had to make a clear commitment to work together in the national interest. The commitment should be based on mutual respect for each other, discipline, and a commit­ment to security of tenure on the one hand and reduction of labour disputes on the other.

The details of such a framework are not necessary for this discussion. It is sufficient to note that Protocol Two recognised that the entire process was to be understood in the context of the country’s search for a new mode of governance. It stated that: “…the implementation of all aspects . . . will be undertaken in a manner that fully acknowledges the spirit into which it has been entered and which honours the principles of transparency and objectivity.

Acknowledging that this protocol marked another stage in the advance­ment of a process for alternative modes of governance, the social partners accepted and agreed that: ‘Steps will be taken to effect the deepening and widening of the social partnership.’

Protocol Three and Beyond

With the signing of Protocol Two in August 1995, a major step towards institutionalisation of the restructured relations of governance in Barbados, was the agreement to administer the protocol by a sub-committee of the social partners who would meet once per month or as often as necessary. This became the first time of consultation regarding all aspects of the implementation of the protocol. The sub-committee comprised six Government representatives, two of whom are Ministers, with an equal number of representatives from the umbrella bodies of unions and employers.

The organisational basis for the current Protocol Three (1998-2000) has proven to be an effective tripartite mechanism in that there has been no major industrial dispute of a protracted nature. Quarterly meetings, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister have been maintained, close working relations have developed and a prominent role is carried out by the National Productivity Board.

Nevertheless, instances have arisen to test the tenacity of purpose and the capacity for participatory democracy, on the matter of securing na­tional consensus on wage restraint and a prices policy, sensitive to unavoid­able or legitimate cost increases. In early 1999, for example, a strike at a state-owned corporation was vigorously supported by the largest union in the Congress. Despite public differences and harsh language in heated exchanges between union representatives and management, consultation at the highest level of government, and the spirit of the social partnership prevailed.

It would be naive not to expect incidents, in the future, that will test the nature of the relations tat require partisan interests to be subordinate to the preservation of a macro policy framework of economic and industrial stability. It appears however, that the understanding of governance that is participatory, and premised on inclusion, has become an integral element of the public consciousness in l3arbadian society.

The formulation and upholding in practical circumstances of the current Protocol for the Implementation of a Social Partnership 1998-2000, capture the spirit and modalities by which the record of economic and social advance­ment has been demonstrated.

At least four indicators are instructive. The rate of growth of the economy over the last five years has been consistently 3.5-4.0 per cent; per capita GDP is US$8,200. On the Human Development Index of UNDP, in 1999, Bar­bados was the only Caribbean country rated among the top 30 countries of the world, on the basis of quality of life on a composite index, reflecting life expectancy, adult literacy, school enrolment and per capita GDP. Also the fixed exchange rate has been maintained at BdsS2 = US$1.00.

With the observance of Protocol Three, relations among the social partners have evolved into a formal structure governing their continued collaboration and consultation on fundamental issues affecting their individual and collec­tive contributions to all aspects of national development. This has been entered into as a Social Compact for a two-year period. Now it is being considered for further extension.

BP’s Note: Protocol IV of the Social Partnership was signed on 1 May 2002 during the Union’s May Day celebrations in Queen’s Park.  The new protocol which became effective 1 April 2001 and will remain in force for three years.  The trade unions were able to negotiate improvements in Protocol IV over the previous protocol.  Workers will now enjoy employment protection rights.  The Protocol clearly states in Section 6.9 that all employees “shall enjoy the right not to be unfairly dismissed, or to be unfairly prevented from continued employment…”

The Protocol proclaims that the procedures for termination of any employment shall be in accord with the principles of natural justice and with the principles enunciated by the International Labour Organisation.

A policy on HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening illness in the workplace is included as an appendix to the Protocol.

The Protocol advocates a commitment to human resources development and training and to the inclusion of the contribution of credit unions and other co-operatives to the productive sector.

The document has a format which begins with a preamble, acknowledging a mutuality of interests among the social partners and the evolving process of the preceding five years, as well as a restatement of the intent on which a policy of industrial harmony is grounded.

The seven-year( now ten) success of Barbados social partnerships cannot necessarily be taken as a blueprint or template for other CARICOM member states to achieve similar economic and social results. But what Barbados has demon­strated is a capacity to pursue a vision for sustained economic growth and development, predicated on specific major objectives. These objectives in­clude political and economic values that are indispensable to the survival of every CARICOM member state. They should be debated nationally, formu­lated and incorporated as basic tenets without which the likelihood of main­taining even a modicum of current survival patterns might be questionable. These tenets are imperatives of the conjuncture of the external environment and internal polarisation of inequities to which most member states are subjected. Therefore, the Barbados protocols offer useful guidelines and lessons for adaptation in the search for alternative modes of governance in the rest of the region.

The necessity of a stable industrial relations climate; the pursuit of sustain­able expansion of the economy through its competitiveness; reduction of social disparities through increased employment; national commitment to increased productivity; and consolidation of the process of tripartite consultation should not be dismissed with cynicism, and Barbados’ success seen as being merely fortuitous. On the contrary, one should hope that the lessons of consistent and deliberate efforts to make participatory democracy a reality in a small Caribbean State can, and will, bear fruit that will enhance the life of the individual.

BP Note: As was stated in the introduction to Part 1, there are significant differences between the prevailing conditions in Guyana and those which obtained in Barbados at the time of the negotiations leading up to the first Protocol. In their case the Barbadians put their national interest first. On the other hand many people believe what the main opposition party is today quoted as saying that “crime is threatening Guyana’s existence”.

While crime has spun out of control, there seems to be little initiative where it matters to address the crisis. The dialogue process which had offered reasonable prospects for peace to the country has been replaced with trading accusations in the media. In Guyana, the efforts of civil society which played such a pivotal role in Barbados are yet to earn the respect of the government. Unfortunately, the urgency of the need for a social compact is in adverse proportion to the will to achieve one.

Business Page again expresses its gratitude to Dr.Gomes for his permission to reproduce this article.


Next Week: Backward Capitalism in Guyana