Consultation through bipartite and tripartite social dialogue has its origins prior to the signing of the tripartite protocols in the 1990s. During the economic crisis in the early 1990s, Government in collaboration with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), implemented a number of structural adjustment programmes.
However, the Barbadian public rejected some of the proposed measures. It was felt that they did not adequately take into account the negative social consequences for the population nor did they equitably distribute the burden of the adjustment measures. The tensions generated by the structural adjustment measures imposed by the IMF and World Bank were unparalleled. Although the trade union movement served as the nucleus of the general protests which arose, employers’ organizations and civil society also took part.
As a result of the widespread protest, social dialogue became a strategic mechanism for ensuring nation-wide problem solving mechanism and it reduced industrial unrest in the country. Bridges of trust were eventually built which created a cordial environment for consultation and engagement by the parties. This led to the creation of the first Protocol, with a view to implement measures for the sustained economic development of Barbados.
Three distinctive groups, Government, Employers representatives and Trade Union representatives agreed in 1993 to the establishment of a Prices and Incomes Protocol and this led to the birth of the Social Partners.
In that time, the country experienced rapidly declining foreign exchange reserves, a worsening balance of payments position, dramatic rises in unemployment and a high fiscal deficit. As a response to the crisis, it was decided that a joint collaborative approach was crucial, consisting of representation from Government, the Trade Union Movement and the Private Sector. Though the crisis affecting the country in the early 1990s was overcome, this tripartite structure has remained in effect to this date. All parties still endeavour to formulate a united response to the country’s economic and social challenges.