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News - Barbados: An International Example of Social Dialogue in Action
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Labour News.

Barbados: An International Example of Social Dialogue in Action

A key element of the ILO’s decent work concept is social dialogue, i.e. the collaboration between representatives of government, employers and workers on labour related issues as well as issues of general economic and social policy.

Social dialogue has been a defining feature of Barbados’ industrial relations environment for many years. From as early as the 70s, informal, ad hoc tripartite consultations were conducted to address prevailing economic issues. However, it was not until 1993 that social dialogue became formalized into a social partnership as workers and employers’ organizations collaborated with Government to find joint resolutions to the economic problems, and to reverse the eroding competitive edge of the country in that period.

With established social dialogue structures and processes, Barbados was a part of an ILO study on the applications of social dialogue. The case studies conducted under the study fed into the development of best practices to guide the efforts of other member states of the ILO who needed to adopt this concept.

Barbados readily accommodated the study by hosting a national tripartite seminar in April, 2001. This forum provided an opportunity for the standing Secretary of the International Industrial Relations Association, Professor Tayo Fashoyin, to have direct involvement with the social partners, and therefore, allowed him to develop a deep understanding of how social dialogue has contributed to the country’s economic growth and development.

The report emanating from the seminar highlighted that there were certain key characteristics that could be attributed to the performance and sustainability of the Social Partnership in Barbados. These characteristics were as follows:

  1. No history of major conflict as “industrial relation practices had been based not on conflict or adversarial relations, but on cooperation and compromise.
  2. The absence of serious factional disputes or inter-union rivalry because the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) had an almost monopolistic control of unionization in Barbados, yet the BWU did not abuse this power. Instead, the BWU participated in the development of the Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), which facilitated cooperation and collaboration between the various unions.
  3. The homogenous nature of Barbadian society that was fostered by the country’s small size and strong family ties. Therefore, members of the Social Partnership easily interacted and related to each other, creating an environment for effective communication and exchange of ideas and opinions.
  4. A stable political environment that had two (2) political parties which have “no noticeable ideological difference.” The government leaders, despite their parties, were committed to social dialogue and therefore, the Social Partnership.
  5. The civil societies, including the church which has historically acted as mediators and has ensured focus on national interests and has promoted understanding among the different parties of the Social Partnership.

Fashoyin also observed that through the tripartite structure, the Social Partnership had a proven track record of addressing socio-economic issues, not only to solve national economic problems, but to create a dynamic environment that can grow in the global economy and therefore stimulate sustainable economic development. Fashoyin concluded that Barbados was "a good case study for identifying the key elements and characteristics of a viable and meaningful social dialogue."

Since its inception, the Social Partners have made a number of important resolutions which have taken the form of protocols. By 2005, five different protocols had been put in place outlining various policies which could stimulate Barbados’ economic and social development through joint efforts to increase competitiveness and productivity. These protocols have also served to achieve social peace and good governance.

Social dialogue is well entrenched at the national level. There is evidence however, that dialogue at the enterprise level needs to be strengthened.

To address the issue of compliance with the protocols at the enterprise level, the Social Partnership has established a secretariat whose main function would be to ensure public awareness of the principles and provisions of the Social Partnership. The secretariat also provides administrative and clerical support to the principal committee and its sub-committee. This includes providing secretarial and logistical support for the meetings as well as following up on matters arising from these meetings. However, it is recognized that this secretariat requires institutional strengthening to effectively and efficiently carry out its functions.

Although the Social Partnership is still developing, it has contributed significantly to Barbados’ stability and economic progress. It has developed into an international example of social dialogue in action and is an initiative of which Barbadians can be proud.

Published: Monday, 15th May, 2006


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