What we set down here must not be the definitive history of Edwin Orlando Gabby Scott but the very least this newspaper can do to express the thanks of a grateful nation for the outstanding contributions of a gentle warrior and quiet revolutionary on behalf of worker’s rights to health and safety in this country.
It should be the earnest task of historians chronicling the trade union movement – from the formation of working men’s associations in the turbulent era of the 1930s through to the birth of the Barbados Workers Union in 1944, its contribution to postwar and post-Independence labour relations and up to the modern era of tripartism – to explain how Gabby Scott shaped the value system that guides acceptable conditions for working men and women in Barbados.
In the pantheon of labour leaders, we are accustomed to brash men of bravado, making as much noise as hay while the sun of publicity shone on them, as Sir Frank Walcott did against the sugar barons, and a firebrand Cardinal LeRoy Trotman – later Sir Roy – did against latter-day tycoons.
But of Sir Frank’s band of young lieutenants – Scott, LeRoy Trotman, Evelyn Greaves and Robert “Bobby” Morris – Scott would have appeared to many public eyes the least of the apostles. Many would have been wrong.
Gabby Scott has done as much as any strike leader to build the nation’s largest union’s public profile, particularly through media. The weekly column Your Union Speaks was required reading. Worker’s Viewpoint on radio has been important listening for the pulse of the union.
This de facto public relations guru relied on past experience in his decade-long life before he entered trade unionism – journalism. Indeed, even while on the clock for the BWU, he never tired of young reporters seeking both understanding of, and comment from, the eminence gris of the union.
Beginning as a young proofreader with the Daily News and moving quickly to the sports desk in 1967 before the paper folded a year later, he joined the Advocate-News under the venerable Robert Best.
And still, Gabby Scott was not done with putting his not inconsiderable creative talents to work, adding to the soundtrack of post-Independence Barbados as an accomplished band musician and singer with the Revelations band, alongside Richard Stoute.
But it would be with the BWU since 1979 that workplace health and safety would become his métier, as he pushed for the adoption of national standards in fields, offices and factories and ultimately legislative changes. He eventually earned national recognition with a Barbados Service Star in 2005 and a Barbados Jubilee Honour in 2016.
But the ultimate reward goes to a young nation with burgeoning industries, as Scott became not merely a promoter and advocate but happy warrior with proselytising zeal for a quality of working conditions no less valuable than a fatter paycheck.
Orlando Gabby Scott deserves our thanks for his tireless work to bringing occupational health and safety out of the shadows of Barbadian machismo and managerial negligence. As he neared retirement, his recent concerns have shown how the movement for a safe and healthy workplace had since evolved.
After a generation’s worth of work to ensure that collective bargaining agreements contain provisions for protective clothing and gear, industrial safety protocols, Scott has turned his attention to mental health and chronic lifestyle diseases.
His legacy is a national workplace wellness policy he helped to draft – a roadmap for ensuring that where we work should be enabling environments for healthy labour.
It is a fitting coda that it should fall to the outgoing Senior Assistant General Secretary of the BWU to deliver the remarks of the health expert on the blue-ribbon policymaking panel, the Pan American Health Organization’s representative to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Dr. Godfrey Xuereb, at the policy’s launch: “To achieve wellness, we must ensure that our worksites are conducive to a healthy environment, not just with regards to air pollution, to ergonomic desks and to be free from physical hazards.
“But in a Barbados of 2020 where the main causes of disability and burden of disease is that from non-communicable diseases, we need to also look at our workplaces as having enabling environments for people to practise healthy eating, be physically active, not be exposed to tobacco smoke and ensure that they have a good work life balance to keep them mentally fit.
“If we don’t stem the scourge of NCDs – especially diabetes and hypertension – we will soon have the most important resource in this country too sick to be productive.”
These words could as easily have come directly and originally from Gabby Scott himself. They require our earnest thanks for work well done in the service of the Barbadian worker. But the best way to pay him tribute would be to ensure that leaders of government, business and labour work no less assiduously than he has to ensure a healthier, safer place in which to work.
Gabby Scott has paved the way.