The Jefferson Cumberbatch Column – Future Industrial Relations

labour_unionsThe labor movement did not diminish the strength of the nation but enlarged it. By raising the living standards of millions, labor miraculously created a market for industry and lifted the whole nation to undreamed of levels of production. Those who attack labor forget these simple truths, but history remembers them –MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., speech to AFL-CIO, Dec. 11, 1961

As the Barbados Worker’s Union (BWU) approaches its 75th anniversary of existence, having been established in October 1941, it is arguably as appropriate a time as any to contemplate the centenary and to imagine what the next 25 years hold for it as an organization. Fortunately, there is, of course, little likelihood of its demise so long as the current praxis of industrial relations continues and so long as there is a need to pursue a war on want for the working classes of the nation. Yet, these are difficult times in the life of any institution, especially one whose core functions include the pursuit of a more equitable share of a rapidly shrinking economy in an era of globalization. In 2013 I was invited by the Industrial Court of Trinidad & Tobago to present a paper at its annual symposium on “The role of the workers’ organization in modern and future industrial relations” and I now propose to draw on that study to share a few ideas on what the future may hold, not only for the BWU specifically, but indeed for all existing local workers’ organizations.

The discussion is set against a background of a contemporary decline in union density or membership, owed not so much to individual disillusionment with the collective leadership of these organizations as to the comparative decline in the number of unionized establishments and the emergence of new non-unionized operations in their stead. Generally, unionization tends to raise the cost of wages and benefits to an employer since this is one of the union’s core functions as a stated above. However, there is no necessary corresponding gain in productivity at the same time thus placing the unionized operation at a comparative disadvantage vis a vis those who are non-unionized.

Moreover, Barbados does not yet have a compulsory regime of union recognition, even though it appears to be generally accepted that local industrial custom and practice is to the contrary. This state of affairs permits some union avoidance by those employers who are so ideologically inclined and the practice without statutory expression may act as a deterrent to further investment or expansion by some potential employers.

This real decline in union density signifies that a significant number of workers are now covered by individual rather than collective contracts of employment, what Professor Cynthia Estlund termed in a 2013 working paper as “a representation gap” or “an unmet desire of collective representation”. Nevertheless, this unmet desire is apparently not necessarily for representation by the traditional union as she refers to an in-depth survey of worker attitudes that found that nearly 85% preferred a representative organization that was run jointly by employees and management, much like the safety and health committees provided for in the Barbados Safety and Health at Work Act 2005, while the remainder opted for independent union representation. Of course, such a survey has not been effected in Barbados so that any similar conclusion would be pure conjecture. But it provides a cautionary tale to local unions that the relationship with their members ought not to be taken for granted.

In a scenario of individual employment, the creation of a floor of individual rights such as minimum wage legislation, holidays with pay, maternity leave entitlement to severance pay on retrenchment and the right not to be unfairly dismissed, all present in Barbadian law to some extent, does appear ostensibly to attenuate the need for collective representation but some deficits may still subsist in such a system.

For one, legislation sets minimum standards only and does not prohibit greater entitlements by agreement of the parties, a reality that in turn implicates the bargaining power of parties to the contract. It is trite that the bargaining power of the individual worker is comparatively inferior to that of organized labour in this context.

Too besides, the enforcement of this floor of rights lies in the volition of the individual employee, a scenario fraught with the possibility of retaliatory misconduct by an employer. It is true that the existence of unfair dismissal legislation has substantially enhanced the job security of the individual Barbadian worker, but more employers than a few might be prepared to take the risk that a dismissed employee will be unwilling or otherwise reluctant to avail of his or her right not to be unfairly dismissed before an unpredictable Tribunal. Such employers may simply ignore the worker’s rights and dare him or her to seek to enforce them.

As Professor Estlund argues, “legal enforcement is ultimately counterproductive for workers because those costs are greater than the incremental gain in job security and will be borne by the employees in the form of lower wages. In short, workers are and rationally should be unwilling to pay for the benefit of legal enforceability; it is simply not with the price…”

Finally, some rights depend on collective or, at least more than individual knowledge for their effective enforcement. While an individual employee may be ignorant as to a pattern of discriminatory conduct by an employer, shared stories among workers, eminently probable in a workers’ organization, may unearth this sort of behaviour.

The foregoing analysis, it is submitted, equates to a cogent case for the continued relevance of the workers organization into the next few decades at least.

To be continued…..

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25 Comments on “The Jefferson Cumberbatch Column – Future Industrial Relations”

  1. Pachamama September 4, 2016 at 8:11 AM #


    We fervently subscribe to the notion that without an understanding of the past the present and the future must be unclear.

    Nothing has been more hurtful to this writer than to see, in our own lifetimes, how the Barbados Workers’ Union and all others around the world have bowed to capitalism and in more recent times to a perverse neo-liberalism, as lapdogs.

    And Leroy Trotman is the poster child for this mass selling out.

    Institutions which gave pride and hope to the masses are now no less our enemies than capital itself.

    In all these circumstances we must contend that the BWU will eventually go the way of the dodo bird. This modern day BWU cannot be the organization which people died to form in the 1930;s.

    It is now part of a social anti-development in Barbados where titles are more important than substance. Where social stability gets preeminence over workers’ rights. Where, through the so-called social partnership, there has been a wholesale sellout of labour.

    It certainly did not help when Frank Walcott consecrated the notion that leaders of labour should receive knighthoods and in all other ways be indistinguishable from the capitalists themselves.

    Crawford must be rolling in his grave!

    Since then labour has given us one more Old Boy of the British Empire – OBE. We may be made to expect a Dame next time.

    If we were to look at a single metric – union penetration. In the USA that statistic is now as low 6% from a height of up to 20% before 1975.

    You may know the numbers for the Barbadian unions. We will assume they are heading in the same direction.

    In sum, the BWU and maybe the rest are heading for oblivion!


  2. Caswell Franklyn September 4, 2016 at 9:26 AM #

    There will always be a need for workers’ organizations as long as there are human employers. I have seen people who appear to be outstanding citizens to the public but when they have to deal with their employees they morph into monsters.

    I have had a few cases at Chefette that appears to be a good corporate citizen but when dealing with their employees, they are probably among the worst employers in this country. Unfortunately, they have a nice relationship with BWU. That union sees nothing wrong with Chefette’s behaviour as long as that restaurant contribute food when BWU have functions.

    I can recall two officials of BWU praising Chefette as a model employer in a situation where that company had in excess of 600 employees, with 35 being permanently employed and all others were part time.

    Unions are their own worst enemies. They have seemingly forgotten the purpose of their existence.


  3. de pedantic Dribbler September 4, 2016 at 9:47 AM #

    @Caswell, re “Unions are their own worst enemies. They have seemingly forgotten the purpose of their existence”.—– Have they in fact ‘forgotten’ or have they simply morphed like their brethren in the broader society to get as much as they can for themselves. The same mentality that drives the corporate chieftain to become a monster is within the soul of the union leader; he or she is driven by the same ambitions.

    Examples: You have noted here how one of the local unions disadvantaged their own employees during the separation process. World news is replete with union bosses who run ‘closed shops old-boys’ operations; where organized crime controls the union and more outrageous stories where union leaders are living at levels comparable to vilified corporate executives.

    There are very good reasons why unionism is as frayed and mistrusted as it is today.

    We can all agree that there is absolutely NO real comparison in most mature economies between the strong unionism in the early days of the industrial and workers’ rights revolutions and current life. NONE.

    In a general sense coupled with the legislative changes Jeff highlighted, if there were more companies like Costco (who treat their workers as human beings worthy of a decent wage and solid work conditions) and not like Walmart (who treat theirs like hamsters on a wheel) then union representation would be well under 5%.

    With respect senor, (as you certainly seem to be an exception) most current unionists are as corrupt as the politicians they revile.


  4. abajanhowe September 4, 2016 at 9:57 AM #

    Caswell as usual is always right on the money. Sincere Union heads first priority must be to the workers and their rights. The what has a political agenda and although seeming to be fair in their dealings with displaced workers also has to co tow to their respective party. It is currently happening and surely will continue.

    Unions are obliged to be an independent entity with the workers rights their main focus, but on the other hand the Unions must not allow the workers to flaunt certain work ethics to the detriment of the employer.

    Chefette has been this way from close to their existence and reaping all the sweets on the heads of the disenfranchised workers who incidentally do carry themselves very well presentable.


  5. Caswell Franklyn September 4, 2016 at 10:02 AM #


    Thank you for this comment:

    With respect senor, (as you certainly seem to be an exception) most current unionists are as corrupt as the politicians they revile.

    I try everyday to be different but the sins of union leaders before me have been getting in the way. Very few people trust these corrupt unions that have gotten into bed with employer and Government and conspire to disadvantage workers. Most of them are bought and paid for.

    This example might curl your hair. One union leader raped his under aged stepdaughter. He was arrested and brought before the court at Boarded Hall. The corrupt Child Care Board, police and the courts conspired to keep this crime under wraps. The case was eventually adjourned sine die and that criminal allowed to walk free but now he is indebted to the Government so he can appear to be fighting but within certain confines.

    Sent from my iPad



  6. abajanhowe September 4, 2016 at 10:08 AM #

    That is the norm in almost all of those types of pedophile case that are swept under the rug and the perpetrators continue in their criminal activities unhindered. Where do we go from here?


  7. Bush Tea September 4, 2016 at 10:22 AM #

    Like almost everything else in Barbados, the problem with the unions is that they continue to try to operate as though they are in the 1960s …when they were indeed relevant.
    Unfortunately, the world has moved on, while they continue to live in the past…..
    This includes Caswell.

    There is no question that there was a CRITICAL role for the union coming out of the end of the plantocracy and into the early 70’s and even 80’s to bring a level of human understanding to the moneyed classes who were employers of the day. However, to find themselves on this SAME mission in 2016 is shameful…..and represents a COMPLETE LACK OF VISION. The BWU Solidarity House’s wall is emblazoned with the consequences of such lack of vision…

    Any application of BASIC common sense during the 70s, 80s and 90s would have seen the unions using their influence to FORCE government and employers to bring workers into the boardrooms through OWNERSHIP. Bushie’s conclusion is that the union leaders became just like the damn employer classes …and preferred to keep workers as low level yardfowls – ever dependent on their goodwill and ‘protection’ from the ‘big bad employers’….rather than to EMPOWER them to move into the OWNER/EMPLOYER (enfranchised) classes…

    The BWU won’t last ten more years.

    The foreigners who have moved in to fill the enfranchised classes in Barbados don’t give two farts about them …and in any case, have been reserving any jobs of value to their kith and kin – who have no interest in joining the unions….
    What meaningful contributions can security guards, clerical staff and gardeners make to the upkeep of a union? …even if they all have masters degrees from Jeff and company on the Hill…?


  8. David September 4, 2016 at 10:22 AM #


    Why don’t you share the details of that sordid matter with BU?

    To your other point the cry from the social partnership that it has not been meeting often enough is a telling story to paint a picture of the state of the IR climate in Barbados. It explains why the many flair ups the government and the private sector have been bedevilled in the last 6 or 7 years.


  9. flyonthewall September 4, 2016 at 10:46 AM #

    One of the first actions by the new heads of the BWU and the BUPW was to acquire top of the line automobiles. But then, Trotman set the pattern with the 7 series BMW that he drove for several years. It was alleged that this was provided by the Haloutes. The true purpose of unions has always been to protect employees against exploitation. In Barbados, it seems to be about expanding membership and thereby revenues. Moore is now talking about enrolling managers. Who is next? the CEO and vice presidents? These union leaders have no credibility. And that’s because they have no integrity. The other problem we face in Barbados is an appalling lack of productivity. And this is because the unions seem to encourage their members to see any kind of work as a form of slavery. It is to be resisted, and to be provided with the greatest reluctance. Barbadians want to be paid 110 cents in the dollar, but in exchange a great many will only give 40 minutes in the hour. A lot of us work at the speed of molasses flowing uphill in winter.


  10. Hopi September 4, 2016 at 11:03 AM #

    Should the globalist be allowed to continue at their rate of expansion, in a few more years time Jeff Cumberbatch will be scribing laws to protect the ‘rights’ of the automatoms especially with all the ‘sick leave’ Bajans seem to have an affinity for.


  11. chad99999 September 4, 2016 at 11:10 AM #

    Having worked in large corporations as an internal auditor and as a manager, I have lived the experience of unions as enemies of the workplace efficiency and productivity that are necessary if an economy is to thrive.
    By creating an adversarial relationship between employer and employee, unions typically foster a clock-watching, 9 to 5, grievance mentality that leads many begrudging workers to disengage and disinvest from their companies. Lazy, incompetent employees are protected from dismissal and managers may be blocked from investigating employee misconduct.
    Enlightened employers understand the need to keep workers motivated and pay them well so they can afford to buy the merchandise that is produced for sale. We have all heard about Henry Ford.
    In Barbados, however, unions have been necessary because of the problems of class and race. When employers are white and the workers are black, the employer is likely to engage in predatory behaviour. But as that racial divide disappears, the need for unions disappears as well. Jeff should not be mourning the trends he describes. They are a sign of progress.


  12. de pedantic Dribbler September 4, 2016 at 11:32 AM #

    @David, re your 10:22 AM. There is always a problem. I too initially said who is that cretin and then I paused because unlike the NakedDeparture type sites I became concerned about the victim. Alas, of course the matter is before the courts so unless all details are sealed it is possible to identify the lass. And therein lies the problem.

    Shaming the cretin also again defiles the young-lady. It would have been great if Caswell had simply said he raped an underage girl. But the die has been thrown.

    Incidentally, Caswell’s story conjured other thoughts which maybe you can guide.

    I do not readily recall in the last 25 years any Bajan with any social name/sorta pedigree or whatever being indicted or publicly assailed in a court of law for any sexual matter. Not one can I think of.

    Can you offer up a few names who have??

    Either I have just missed the news or Bajans of a certain social strata are completely outside the standard deviations for social deviance. That would thus be a very well received study to a peer Psychology journal.


  13. David September 4, 2016 at 11:41 AM #

    @Dee Word

    So we give a pass to this animal who has the freedom to prey on others? We give him a pass and in the process condemn the very system of the moral determination requires of a wholesome and righteous society to ensure law, order and justice are maintained? What are you saying, please clarify. Bear in min there is always a price to be made for anything worth having.


  14. Pachamama September 4, 2016 at 11:46 AM #

    @ Caswell

    You’re in danger of a date with our guillotine LOL


    We are tired saying you right. So we’re not going to.


    We know that the credit unions went to Sandiford during the early 1990’s, at the time of divestment, and asked the government to sell the credit unions some of the state assets then on offer.

    It did not matter that the credit unions could have raised the capital from very large international partners, the community of interests got everything. Where was the BWU. Maybe Leroy was jockeying to become PM.

    Or marching people up and down like the Grand Ole Duke of York when the country was up for sale.

    What else could have been more important than buying it for the workers. And if workers unions concentrated more on their credit unions, economic democracy is achievable.

    That opportunity, and many others since then, was missed, to turn workers into owners. The permanent division between ownership and workers has outlived its usefulness, it it ever was.

    So Caswell needs to have a grander vision. A vision which allows us to evolve beyond the 1930’s.

    He shouldn’t have to worry, there will be more than sufficient opportunities to keep him busy.


  15. de pedantic Dribbler September 4, 2016 at 11:53 AM #

    I never said give the man a pass sir. I am saying that shaming him publicly will do less at this time to HIM and EVERYTHING to his victim.

    Unless a public campaign can push the DPP et al to revisit this matter with immediacy then the effort is misguided in my view…well intentioned by mis-guided. I think we both know that the DPP is not pushed by public noise.

    Frankly in a case like this (if guilt is ironclad) I would realistically be more inclined to some variant of the Pacha method of retribution.

    Social media is a dangerous tool, sir. The ripples don’t ever dissipate…on some issues that needs to be clearly understood.

    And yet as I said the die is cast so the matter will go where it goes. Just one pedantic’s off-center view!


  16. David September 4, 2016 at 12:06 PM #

    @Dee Word

    BU is not Naked Departure. We try our best not to deliberately defame. If we did not Roy Morris would be under some more pressure about the payoff he and his handles executed with a former employee who bolted to New York. We have a way how things are done in Barbados that has become ensconced how we operate. There are only a limited number of ways to disrupt it.


  17. Caswell Franklyn September 4, 2016 at 12:26 PM #


    Your comment at 10:20 shows that you are out of touch with reality. The system of plantocracy came to an end only to the extent that the majority of the workforce is no longer employed in the cane fields. The cane fields have been replaced with employers like Barbados Light and Power Co. Ltd., Hilton Hotel, Rockley Resort and Spa, Sandals, Chefette, Royal Pavilion and Transport Board. I could go on but that would not convince you.

    Sent from my iPad


  18. Sargeant September 4, 2016 at 12:37 PM #

    @Jeff C
    Is it a coincidence that this article appears on the eve of Labour Day in NA rather than the traditional Workers Day in May as celebrated in the rest of the world? (Just messing with yuh)
    I see these things in relation to events in other places, there is a move to emasculate Unions in many locations and it is generally working. This is partly at the feet of the Union bosses who are indistinguishable from their adversaries across the negotiating table; the hidden observer is unable to tell who is whom (particularly if they go to the parking lot and try to tell which car a particular individual is driving). In the US many States led by Republican Administrations have passed “right to Work” legislation which are in essence rules designed to thwart the formation of bargaining units in a particular plant. Caterpillar used that law to relocate its plant from Ontario to Indiana in the USA and the average wage dropped from $35.00 per hour to $12.00. Margaret Thatcher helped to destroy or severely wound Arthur Scargill and Unions in Britain and Ronald Reagan similarly decimated Unions with his handling of the Air Traffic Controllers strike.

    However, the politicians and Corporate world couldn’t get away with their actions without the acquiescence of the worker as many workers today take their rights and benefits for granted and they don’t recognize that many of these rights were fought for tooth and nail by Unions. Why do workers elect politicians who won’t even pass a minimum wage law? Even the folks who serve in the Congressional dining hall are paid less than a working wage by their employer (which happens to be another employer since these jobs were outsourced).

    Unions in Barbados are basically political footballs bending to the will of their leadership, remember when BWU was affiliated with the BLP? Sir Frank used his row with GH Adams to move the BWU from the BLP fold to the DLP, ostensibly Sir Frank was an Independent MP in the house but supported the DLP’s legislation efforts.


  19. Bush Tea September 4, 2016 at 1:24 PM #

    @ Caswell Franklyn September 4, 2016 at 12:26 PM
    We are saying the same thing.However, by their lack of vision, the UNIONS allowed this to become the reality….THAT is Bushie’s point.


  20. Caswell Franklyn September 4, 2016 at 4:15 PM #


    You asked:


    Why don’t you share the details of that sordid matter with BU?

    The person in question has only one stepdaughter and I do not want to embarrass her.

    Sent from my iPad


  21. Well Well & Consequences September 4, 2016 at 5:20 PM #

    Ah….the sordid mess of island politics practiced by all in position of pockets of power..

    Piece…ya getting another EU ambassador, ya girlfriend Pamela have to get a new buddy.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Piece Uh De Rock Yeah Right - INRI September 5, 2016 at 3:31 PM #

    @ Well Well


    Looka ammmmm…nuhbody ent saying nuffin bout “irregularities” and EU Commission investigations and ammmmmmm…

    A lot uh people tight lipped ammmmmmmmmmm…..

    But suffice it to say dat de European Union doan play round like de Bajan pooch Suckers …specially when wunna is black peeple???

    Wunna gone through de edoes.

    You seeing what is happening in Europe with the racism and antisemitism and all the rest of anti-immigration problems?

    Now tell me, if you are accustomed paying your neighbours water bill, AND YOU LOST YOUR JOB, but you still got (the) chilrun (are is reading well) to tek care of, tell me you going support people using EU Funds as dem piggy bank???

    That is a message tuh all uh we bout teifing EU monies…one dat I sure dat we ingrunt West Injuns, certainly we Bajans, ent going learn nuffin from…

    Just look at the normal pattern of tenure and that will reveal all…me dun wid dat…


  23. Pachamama September 5, 2016 at 7:51 PM #

    When all is said and done we must remain nostalgic about the music of the time when workers’ unions promised much. About the creating a better society.

    We’ve afraid it was merely fleeting. Listen to Billy Brags, eg

    Or the work of Victor Jara or Quilapayun

    By Podemos, in modern times

    Or even the internationale, from a bygone but much loved period.

    Now, the march for univeral justice is no more!


  24. Sargeant September 5, 2016 at 8:17 PM #

    No list is complete without Paul Robeson “Joe Hill”


  25. Pachamama September 5, 2016 at 8:25 PM #

    @ Sargeant

    You are absolutely correct

    But there are so many.


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