The trade unions and the private sector were left feeling slighted Friday after Prime Minister Freundel Stuart failed to show up for a meeting he had summoned to set the agenda for the highly anticipated gathering next Friday of the Social Partnership.
Top executives of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) and The Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) met Friday morning at Government Headquarters for almost two-and-a-half hours.
The labour movement and the business community staged a 20,000-strong march on July 24 to press for meaningful dialogue with Stuart on the austerity measures, especially the National Social Responsibility Levy, which rose sharply from two per cent to ten per cent from July 1.
By the scheduled 11:30 a.m. start time, the Social Partners were told that Stuart would not chair the meeting because he had to attend a funeral, and that Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy and Senator Darcy Boyce would take charge of the proceedings.
Speaking to the media following the talks, BSTU President Mary Redman said the Prime Minister’s excuse did not resonate with the participants.
“We were disappointed in so far as we were under the impression that the Prime Minister would be in attendance. We understand that he had a funeral to attend, but our expectation was that he still would have attended up until the point in time that he would have left for the funeral. However things did not work out that way,” Redman said.
BWU General Secretary Toni Moore echoed Redman’s sentiments, although she disclosed that the initial disappointment was quickly brushed aside as everyone got down to the business at hand.
“We came this morning anticipating a meeting with the Prime Minister but in fact it was chaired by Minister Sealy because he [Stuart] had another commitment. It was really an initial disappointment but in terms of the outcome and where we are heading, we are concentrating more on that aspect,” Moore said.
However, the union leader said it was unfortunate that the unions were unable to obtain clarification from the Prime Minister about his threat to ensure any future meetings with the unions and the private sector would be held in the full glare of the public.
“We didn’t get into those discussions here today because that is something the Prime Minister said within the four walls of Parliament, and unfortunately he was not here at the meeting to address that particular issue. But one way or the next that is not a concern for us. What is a concern for us is . . . addressing the issues and challenges confronting Barbados and the issues which a number of people took to the streets in support of last week Monday,” she explained.
Speaking in the House of Assembly last month on an Opposition Barbados Labour Party motion to discuss the issues that led to the July 24 protest, Stuart made it clear the next meeting of the Social Partnership – now scheduled for August 11 – would be broadcast live on television.
The BWU head made it clear that meeting would not be just “another talk shop”.
“It could only be a talk shop if the parties involved allow it to be that. We are of a strong belief that there is a strong basis for the position we are representing, which redounds to the benefit of not only our constituents but for all Barbadians. Therefore we will not allow for discussions to veer off the interest that we represent,” Moore stressed.