by Latoya Burnham
Impending layoffs in the public sector may not be avoidable, but it could create opportunities on two fronts — for entrepreneurship and to strengthen community interaction.
President of the Barbados Economics Society, Ryan Straughn, told Barbados TODAY that while no cuts in jobs had been announced, close watch of the economy would show that such measures were now unavoidable.
“What is anticipated to come, particularly in the public service is that any adjustment really leads to job losses. It is part of the short-term instability that unfortunately some households will have to bear, and of course that is on top of all the inflationary effects that would have transpired over that period of time,” he said, adding that whatever option Government took would lead to reduced income and hence consequences in immediate demand.
“The reason for that is that the reserve position is rapidly deteriorating, so therefore we have to avoid any balance of payment crisis as we did in 1991. At this point in time, people should already have been aware that these things are coming. That is not to say that that helps you to prepare for what it is, because at the end of the day how it will affect the individual households directly, but certainly I think all persons whether you work in the public service or not, have to come to the realisation that there will be a period of time where there would have been considerable constraints. So any ability to save or cut back even further than what is current, will be hard and that is the truth, it will be very hard,” he posited.
For those people concerned about their mortgages he said they would have to make “serious adjustments” in terms of their own expenditure and in determining their absolute needs. While he noted that he believed people had already begun to make these adjustments, Straughn said that unless there was some ease in the energy policy then households and businesses would have to respond to the fact that there would be less demand in the market due to balance of payment concerns.
He said Government had put off making the necessary hard adjustments for two years and it was unfortunate that it seemed the civil service might be the ones to “bear the brunt” of the policy decisions taken then.
There was no avoiding the pain to come, he said, though he noted that those who were especially fearful might be those who were aware that they had not done their absolute best within the jobs they had and that whatever happened Barbadians would have to adopt a different attitude to work.
But, he maintained that there were positives to come from the entire experience if Barbadians were willing to learn the lesson, and if the country was to be put on a growth path that could start to yield results in another 12 to 18 months.
Sacrifices had to be made, the economic consultant said, and it was better for Government to make swift decisions rather than to “prolong the agony”, and therefore allow the people to bounce back which he said he believed they would.
“When you are faced with adversity you have to be creative… There are opportunities for public servants if they are willing to do stuff for the Government. So I believe that there are lots of options by way of privatisation, but with all of that, people have to see that it is a matter of providing the services at the highest possible level rather than just going through the motions as a lot of public officers seem to be,” Straughn concluded.
On the other hand, opportunities were also there for Barbadians to be each other’s keeper, said Anglican minister Reverend Davidson Bowen, who noted that it was a chance for Christians to show their charity.
He said while he suspected that with any job losses the churches would be called upon to counsel and help and that there were outlets on which the church could draw to assist persons, it could create the environment that many say Barbados has lost.
“It is hard to ask persons not to panic. I know that the church is expected to offer words of comfort, but the truth is that at a time like that people are looking for more than words, because words won’t put food on the table or help with bills; they need something physical,” he said, adding there were organisations as well that would be called on to help.
“People behave as if this is new and it is not. The same thing happened is ’91 and the only assurance is that ya ain’t dead. What people might have to do is give up the luxuries — sell the car and make adjustments in the home; but it will call for people to maybe swallow their pride and seek help.
“It is an opportunity for us to show what we are made of; for Christians to be Christians. Job losses I think are inevitable… but we talk a lot about love and this will be the opportunity to show it, to share with those who do not have and show that sort of love.
“We can use it to revert to what people speak about in old days, to be people who care. I’m not saying that you will be able to leave home with your doors unlocked like before … but if you have a breadfruit and your neighbour has potatoes, barter. Necessity is the mother of invention.”
He said he suspected some people would look to the church for direction, others might not, but regardless of whether a person was Christian or not, it was an opportunity to help them where they were.
Head of the Barbados Association of Psychologists, Dr. Donna-Marie Maynard, said she did not believe Barbados was so far removed from the caring society it once was that any job cuts would see a drastic return to olden times though.
She said she believed Barbados was still largely a caring society and that in times of crisis people tended to turn to the church pastor, or a good friend or relative to discuss the challenges.
The prospect of not being able to control ones future, said the psychologist, was a difficult one for anyone to bare, but she said things like consolidating finance and reducing expenditure were elements people could control.
While Barbadians were less likely to go to a counsellor or therapist for assistance in coping with job loss, she said though that there was a strong support system within the structure of society that people resorted to and perhaps would again.
“I know that people talk about a return to the old society, but I would rather think of it as that it will more strengthen those bonds within the communities. That’s what makes Barbados so attractive to people, that’s why people return to Barbados because that support is so strong here…
“The prospect of job loss is likely to be a very stressful event and the most important way I can think of handling it is through other people — that support system. It is nothing we want to go through by ourselves,” said Maynard.