Barbadians celebrate the International Workers Day/May Day holiday in typical Caribbean fashion. Street parades are a prelude to time spent enjoying a restful day, eating, drinking, listening to music, and watching cultural displays. That was clearly evident at Carlisle Bay this afternoon. On the surface, few concerns were evident that jobs were at risk. It is an important gesture that employers put on a good spread for their workers during times such as these. They are a sign that employees matter.
The quality of relationships between workers and employers are often tested on a regular basis, but usually are under much more strain during a downturn in economic activity. Barbados has managed to limit job losses in both the public and private sector during the current recession. In a small country, the pain of unemployment can quickly become a shared personal agony as the web of connections can often be very close and it is harder to not know who has been affected directly when a job is cut, and also who may be affected indirectly by that loss.
One had to note the unfortunate timing of news today about some workers are being laid off at Elegant Hotels, reportedly 'without adequate reason', and 15 employees at Hanschell Inniss being laid off. That company issued a press release yesterday indicating that, through a 'restructuring' it reduced staff from 181 to 166 as the recession reduced consumer spending and affected one of the island's major distributors. Though the island has seen national unemployment rise to 10% it is clear that this figure could have been higher as many companies have resorted to shorter hours and various ways of rotating staff rather than laying them off. Wages and profits have both been put under strain and that has had repercussion on what people can do with the income they still have. Yet, when one speaks to employers it is still the case that many find that potential workers do not appreciate what it means to be 'responsible': being on time, coming to work regularly, and giving a good day's work are still not practices that are displayed as routinely as one would expect, especially when times are harder.
The steel band started tapping: the strains of Calypso were flowing from the road to the beach.The drummers started beating: the sounds of Africa replaced those of Calypso. The dancers started their rhythmic movement: no dance hall or wukkin up, but the silky, flowing movements of traditional west African styles. Food servers and drink dispensers started to work up a sweat to satisfy the lines of patient customers, who had just come from the walk to honour former labour leaders. Work and play were mixed together, as were owners, managers, and employees, and for a while, at least, the strains of current economic conditions were put on the back burner.
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