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NOBA’s ‘mistakes’ call for more professionalism

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Tue, Aug 16. 2011

It is easy to be critical, but at least the President of the local National Omnibus Association (NOBA), Mr. Anthony Bacchus, has had the courage to openly admit to “mistakes” made during NOBA’s recent negotiations with Government for a new schedule of bus fares. According to the President, insufficient attention was paid to the fare structure for buses operating the least lucrative and physically most taxing routes, those to the extreme north of the country, Leeward and Windward alike.{{more}} He is hoping for understanding on the part of the authorities to have these anomalies ironed out.

Those areas to the north, together with the islands of the Grenadines, came to be regarded, in government parlance, as “hard areas”. The people who live in those areas have traditionally been at a disadvantage, in relation to most public services, though, in recent times, there has been great improvement in that regard. Still, because of the over-centralisation of our country, in which capital city Kingstown is the focus for most activities and the hub of services, in practice the residents in those areas end up paying more for most goods and services. Even where prices are regulated, there is still the factor of transport costs increasing the prices of most commodities.

A parent from North Windward or North Leeward, or the Grenadines, has to fork out more to pay for transportation for children attending any institution outside their area; they pay more for cooking gas, as well as most other items. But incomes are not proportionately treated, thereby leaving them worse off than their counterparts in Kingstown and its environs. Thus arises a man-made system of in-built discrimination which can only be addressed by programmes based on ‘affirmative action’, or as is argued today in international circles, Special and Differential principles.

It is easy to say that Government has the responsibility to help to level the playing field. Some argue that subsidies, for example to bus operators in the areas affected, is the way to go. However, in small countries like ours with very limited resources, such subsidies are only possible if sacrifices are made elsewhere, and there are few amongst us who would be willing to pay slightly higher prices for goods and services in order to level off the costs to our brothers and sisters in these areas.

As regards NOBA and the bus fares, while it is true that its chief responsibility is to its members, as providers of a public service, it must be conscious of the effects of any fare increase on the travelling public. While we welcome the renewed interest in the organisation on the part of bus owners and drivers, we would like to see a more sustained, comprehensive approach. Clearly, based on comments from the public, there is understanding of the financial difficulties facing those who provide this service in the face of escalating operating costs. But commuters are also concerned about the level of service provided.

NOBA has promised to look into this, but that can only be done if it is organised on a more professional basis, not just an ad hoc coming together to press for fare increases. It stands to reason that unless NOBA is efficiently organised and administered, that having achieved fare increases, operators would go back to business as usual, forgetting the pledges for better services. Indeed, the negotiations themselves, and the mistakes made, should bring it home to Mr. Bacchus and company that a far higher level of organisation is necessary.

It is a fundamental weakness plaguing working people and their organisations. While it is nice and romantic to talk of relying on your own, it can only strengthen the organisations if they seek professional assistance. NOBA, for instance, would be well served to link up with the umbrella organisation of trade unions, the National Labour Congress (NLC) which has vast experience in negotiations. Similarly, LIAT workers here, who chose to set up their own union, cannot but notice the effectiveness of their Grenadian counterparts, served by professional trade unionists.

Given the decline in the trade union movement, this area of organisation and building the capacity of organisations of the working people, including those in the commercial and hospitality sectors, vendors, domestic workers etc., must be given priority if we are to cope with the challenges of the world today.

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