During the last three decades Barbados’ economic landscape has become increasingly diversified with tourism replacing the sugar industry as the primary foreign exchange earner. Financial and offshore services (e.g. banking, shipping registration, processing of airline passenger tickets, processing of health services records, etc) have been introduced also as means of earning vital foreign exchange as well as sources providing sizeable employment opportunities.
In 2005 the Ministry of Labour & Social Security announced that “In order to prepare Barbados for the challenges of an international business environment the Government of Barbados …was presently investigating the viability of introducing a twenty-four hour workday … and that the necessity for such an initiative will be critical to the future development of small open economies, such as those in the Caribbean region.”
According to the Ministry of Labour: “Despite the economic & social accomplishments, several regional and international developments will inevitably impact on Barbados’ global competitiveness. These include:
– The movement of capital and CARICOM nationals under the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) and beyond;
– The demise of preferential trading arrangements for raw sugar on the European market; and
– The pending establishment of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
There seems to be a consensus that Barbados has a competitive advantage in respect to the provision of services. As a consequence the Island has concentrated on and became increasingly dependent on the provision of services. In recognition of this fact developments are being promoted and pursued such as the National Initiative for Service Excellence (NISE), Great Attitudes, Initiative, Values and Excellence (GIVE) effort, the reform of the Public Sector and the work of the Productivity Council are all aimed at substantially improving our performance, particularly but not exclusively, in the area of service delivery. The planned introduction or rather extension of the twenty-four hour work system is also in furtherance of this cause.
Between June and October last year the Ministry of Labour, Social Security & the Civil Service conducted an exercise to look at the facilitation of a twenty-four hour work system in Barbados. In this exercise the Ministry sought the views of various stakeholders: prominent business personalities, the private sector agencies, government agencies, the workers’ representatives, as well as several non-governmental agencies. The current situation in Barbados was examined as well as the benefits and challenges that may be associated with the implementation of the proposed culture.
The twenty-four hour work day was described by the Ministry as “a system where the operations of an establishment, whether in the public or private sector, are accessible to persons who wish to conduct a business transaction at any time of the day or night.”
It should be borne in mind that there exists in Barbados a wide array of twenty-four hour operations: customs, immigration, and guard services; health services (nursing, ambulance, etc); police, prisons, and fire services as well as government industrial school; sanitation services; hotels; not forgetting several privately-owned manufacturing companies, service operations (towing, repairs, security, bakeries, meals, call centres).
The government of Barbados has specifically identified “several revenue-collecting departments which are subject to rigid day-time hours of business”. These include:
- Port of Bridgetown National Petroleum Corporation
- Value Added Tax (VAT) Office Barbados Licensing Authority
- Land Tax Department Barbados Water Authority
The Ministry of Labour, in researching the matter in relation to compliance with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) instruments, has stated that whereas there are no Conventions or Recommendations that deal specifically with the issue of working around the clock there are a number of instruments that have a bearing on the matter: Weekly Rest in Industry (C14); Forty-Hour Week (C47); Night Work for Young Persons employed in Industry (C90); Weekly Rest (Commerce and Offices) (C106); Night Work (C171); Night Work (R178).
The world, if it has not already done so, is fast becoming a global village. This is particularly so given the widespread popularity of the internet. If Barbados as a nation, having placed great store on services (led by tourism) and off-shore business as means of earning vital foreign exchange and is serious with this policy position, then it must be untiringly sensitive to the needs of its clients and potential clients operating across different time zones. In this regard alone it would appear that the adoption of a twenty-four work cycle is inevitable. Naturally a number of safeguards have to be put in place, improvements in work place conditions have to be made, and novel features to collective agreements have to be negotiated.
Some of the benefits that would accrue to Barbados from the introduction of a 24 hour work system are:
– Provision of an incentive to potential foreign direct investment provided that adequate support systems such as transport and security of workers are well established;
– Reduction in traffic congestion on the Nation’s roads especially in relation to business houses located in and around Bridgetown;
– Improvement in the punctuality and attendance of workers and higher productivity;
– Increase in the number of customer-friendly businesses as a result of providing clientele with more longer/ more flexible opening hours;
– Increased options for workers in terms of hours of work (i.e. morning, afternoon, night);
– Increased efficiency and enhanced competitiveness in the conduct of some enterprises.
(E.g. Shop Act and the stocking of shelves by supermarkets after 10.00 pm).
Apparently during the discussions with the stakeholders some of the challenges identified include those set out below:
- Premium payment for work done on premium days namely Sundays and public holidays;
- Payment of additional remuneration for night work;
- Transportation of night workers;
- Safety and security of night workers while at the workplace;
- Ability/success of workers and employers to reach agreement on restructuring existing collective agreements;
- Removal of anomalous and contentious restrictions in the Shops Order which confers an unfair advantage on some shops whereby they can conduct business on a 24 hour basis (viz. petrol stations, motor vehicle and repair service stations, motor vehicle spare parts shops).
There are other challenges that must be considered in addition to those already cited above. According to ILO Convention 171 and Recommendation 178:
- At their request, workers shall have the right to undergo a health assessment without charge;
- Suitable first aid facilities shall be made available to workers performing night work;
- Alternative to night work must be provided to women workers who would otherwise be called upon to perform such work before and after childbirth, and during pregnancy;
- Daily periods of work which include night work should include a break or breaks to enable workers to rest and eat;
- The starting and finishing times of daily periods of work which include night work should be co-ordinated with the schedules of local public transport services;
- Suitably equipped resting facilities should be made available to night workers in appropriate places in the undertaking;
- Workers should be given reasonable notice of a requirement to perform night work except in cases of force majeure or of actual or imminent accident.
In evaluating the advantages and the challenges relating to the introduction of a 24 hour work-day culture the Ministry also identified a number of options.
– Streamline those Government institutions that already work on a 24 hour basis with the dual intention of making them more efficient while protecting the interests of those workers who are required to work shift systems;
– Government revenue-collecting agencies could have extended hours of service as oppose to opening around the clock;
– Information technology could be used to provide critical information as well as on-line completion of forms and payment processing systems to facilitate a variety of functions.
This paper is offered to formally inform Councillors of Government’s intention to pursue the introduction of a 24 hour work system as well as to enhance the knowledge of Councillors in this regard by identifying advantages, disadvantages, implications and available options. Councillors are hereby invited to:
– Embrace in principle the proposal to streamline and extend the working of appropriate public workers;
– Mandate the Union’s staff to ensure that the interests of affected workers are protected;
– Mandate the Union’s staff to ensure that public workers, particularly those who are likely to be affected by the pending change, be informed of the proposal and be consulted on the matter with a view to making representation on any concerns (e.g. safety of work place, ready availability of reliable transportation, child care facilities, provision of rest periods/meal breaks, ready availability of prompt medical attention, ready availability of meals, appropriately increased remuneration) they may have or suggestions they might make.
The opportunity is taken to remind Councillors that they are expected at all times to be able to clearly articulate and defend the position of the National Union of Public Workers on matters of importance to the public at large as well as to be able to clearly explain to other shop stewards and workers the position of the Union on any matter particularly those of national importance.