wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy Privacy
2006-10-17 15:21:00
Embassy Bridgetown
Cable title:  


pdf how-to read a cable

DE RUEHWN #1836/01 2901521
R 171521Z OCT 06
						C O N F I D E N T I A L BRIDGETOWN 001836 




E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/12/2016

Classified By: CDA Mary Ellen T. Gilroy for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

1. (U) Summary: In the four decades since independence,
Barbados has enjoyed a relatively calm industrial relations
environment, with successive governments focused on ensuring
social stability by promoting economic progress of all
socio-economic groups. The history of Barbados is
intertwined with that of its labor movement, and as a result,
labor enjoys much public sympathy and support. With
globalization and increased regional integration as well as
competition, Barbados is facing new pressures on its labor
relations system, but these pressures are unlikely in the
near term to force significant changes to a system, which
many Barbadians cherish and on which many feel they depend
for their economic well-being. End Summary.

The Nexus of Labor, History, and Politics


2. (U) Labor played a key role in the movement for the
country's independence, and to this day, continues to
influence Barbadian politics (septel). Both major political
parties in Barbados proudly proclaim their roots in the labor
movement, and both include "labour" in their names.
Barbados' governments, whether led by the Barbados Labour
Party (BLP) or the Democratic Labour Party (DLP), have
cultivated labor support through policies protecting workers'
rights and interests. The success of these policies is
apparent in the relative political and social stability
enjoyed by Barbados since independence. Labor continues to
attract much public support and sympathy, as it is widely
viewed as an important part of the country's heritage and

3. (U) Barbadian political leaders are well aware of
labor's continued influence and work assiduously to cultivate
its support. In the run-up to the next parliamentary
election, expected to be called in 2007, both parties have
been busy courting the unions and their members. For
example, at the recent conference of the Congress of Trade
Unions and Staff Associations, Prime Minister Owen Arthur
pledged his government's full support, including financial
support, to the trade union movement. David Thompson, the
leader of the opposition, has also vowed to support the
unions and has spoken out against liberalization of
immigration laws that could place Barbadian jobs in jeopardy.
In a recent meeting with PolOff, Harry Husbands, head of the
Barbados Employers' Confederation (BEC), noted that when it
comes to labor issues, there is no ideological divide between
the BLP and the DLP, a point echoed by other observers of
local politics.

4. (U) Labor's continued influence in Barbados is due in no
small measure to the strength of the local unions. According

to the Chief Labour Officer Edla Lowe, between 25 to 30
percent of Barbadian workers belong to a union. Many more
are covered by collective agreements, which extend the same
benefits and protections to all workers in a particular
industry. Key sectors of the economy are unionized,
including the airport, seaport, tourism, education, and
agriculture, which gives labor added power and voice in
negotiations. Barbados has only two major labor unions, the
Barbados Workers' Union and the National Union of Public
Workers. With two strong unions and no competition between
them, Barbados' labor has been able to focus on organizing
and maintaining their high profile in the country's politics.

The Social Partnership


5. (U) The Social Partnership, introduced in 1993, is the
cornerstone of Barbados' mostly voluntary labor relations
system (septel). Born out of the economic and financial
crisis facing Barbados in the early 1990's, the Partnership
is grounded in a tri-partite consultative mechanism.
Government, labor, and employers' representatives meet
usually on a monthly basis to discuss industrial relations,
but increasingly other issues have been added to the agenda.
For example, Prime Minister Arthur recently called on the
Social Partnership to consider not only matters such as the
social security system and the CARICOM Single Market Economy
(CSME), but also lifestyle issues. Over the years, the
Social Partnership, with its emphasis on consultation and
cooperation, has therefore become an important part of the
country's political, social, and economic fabric.

6. (U) The Social Partnership's emphasis on consultation
has had a significant impact on how labor disputes are
resolved in Barbados. Although work stoppages are not
uncommon, they are usually of very short duration because the
three social partners try to resolve matters quickly.
According to Husbands, whose BEC keeps statistics on work
stoppages, most work stoppages are by workers in the public
sector and last only a day or so. The system is not perfect,
however, as the recent sick-out by the air traffic
controllers demonstrated. Their grievances, chief among them
transportation to and from work, were allowed to fester for
months, and it was not until the sick-out threatened to shut
down air traffic in the country's only airport that the
government quickly stepped in and addressed their concerns.

Impact on Business


7. (C) Most Barbadian businesses generally support the
Social Partnership, and even its critics acknowledge its
benefits. In a recent meeting with PolOff, Dick Stoute,
president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry,
called the Social Partnership "a lot of hot air," but
admitted that the Partnership could be useful in times of
economic crisis. BEC's Husbands, a decided supporter of the
Partnership, said that it has served to deepen the country's
democratic processes. He noted, as one example of the
Partnership's positive impact, the budgetary process, wherein
the employers, unions, and other interest groups now have an
unprecedented opportunity to consult the government and
influence its decisions.

8. (SBU) Despite this general support, some employers would
prefer a more rules-based labor relations system, as opposed
to the Social Partnership's voluntarism and lack of
regulation. According to Husbands, foreign investors
especially are looking for more clarity and transparency in
employer-employee relations because they are not accustomed
to resolving issues through informal consultations. The
government is at present preparing a set of regulations
concerning occupational health and safety, but no regulations
are in place to govern such key issues as recognition of

9. (U) The strong public sympathies toward labor have been
both a blessing and a burden for local businesses. Local
companies have sometimes sought to block foreign competitors
from entering the Barbadian market with claims that increased
competition could threaten their business and therefore the
jobs they provide. That is exactly the argument that
Chefette, a local fast food chain, recently used in
attempting to block Subway's plans to enter the market.
However, the strong public sympathies toward labor usually
handicap Barbados employers in the arena of public relations,
and as a result, local business may not always have the
option of doing what makes the most business sense. For
example, the introduction of luggage carts at the airport
this summer sparked an unexpected public outcry because the
carts would threaten the livelihood of the few dozen
"redcaps" or porters working at the airport. The redcaps
became overnight celebrities and suddenly came to be
viewed--at least by the media--as an integral part of the
Barbadian tourist sector. The airport backed down, the
luggage carts disappeared, and the redcaps' jobs are safer
than ever.

New Pressures and Challenges


10. (C) The Barbadian emphasis on stability has led some to
charge that Barbados is unprepared to compete in the global
economy and unable to respond to change. For example, Stoute
criticized the Barbadians' preoccupation with stability and
worried that the country's overly-protected economic
environment has led to complacency and lower productivity.
However, Wayne Fields, a partner in the local branch of Price
Waterhouse Coopers, expressed a contrasting view when he
noted that Barbados' stability has been one factor which has
figured prominently in the calculus of foreign investors.
According to Fields, Barbados could never compete with tax
havens like the Cayman Islands, but it has nevertheless
managed to attract foreign investors who are looking for a
stable environment in which to establish and grow "active"

11. (U) Furthermore, the emphasis on stability seems to
have been gradually weakening in recent years. Under the
leadership of Prime Minister Arthur, Barbados has been at the
forefront of pressing the Caribbean region toward greater
economic integration. While most Barbadians would probably
agree that this move toward greater openness is necessary,
there are undercurrents of concern among some Barbadian
workers. Construction workers and domestics are frequently
cited as examples of workers whose jobs and wages are being
threatened by immigrant workers already entering Barbados
both legally and illegally from other parts of the Caribbean.
While the government has so far managed quite skillfully to
keep the lid on serious opposition to its policies, further
opening of the labor market could become increasingly
politically charged, especially in advance of the next
parliamentary elections.



12. (C) As Barbados approaches its next parliamentary
elections in 2007, labor's profile and influence will likely
increase. Already, political leaders of both parties are
working to shore up their support within the unions.
Barbadian labor's close ties to the country's history,
especially to the independence movement, will ensure that
labor will retain its influence even after the polls close on
election day. That influence, however, may come at a price.
The unions have been, in essence, co-opted into the political
process through their participation in the Social
Partnership. Already, some have criticized union leaders for
being more concerned with the smooth functioning of the
Social Partnership, rather than promoting the interests of
workers. This criticism could become more widespread, if the
workers begin to feel they are being inadequately protected
from the challenges posed by regional integration and
globalization. The Social Partnership could also be
undermined by the growing number of issues with which the
social partners are tasked. Their agenda could become so
diffuse and overloaded that it could paralyze the entire
Social Partnership process.