International Youth Day was celebrated globally on Monday, August 12, 2013 under the theme: Youth Migration: Moving Development Forward. Youth across the world celebrated this day with activities such as workshops, fairs and church services. Local youth groups also joined in the celebrations through various activities aimed at promoting and engaging youth to become more actively involved in making positive contributions in their communities.
On August 13, 2013 the day after International Youth Day, the young workers of Barbados were given a bitter pill to swallow by Minister of Finance, Chris Sinckler in his budgetary proposals.
Prior to the presentation of the budgetary proposals the public service was a very uncomfortable place to work for many young workers. This was a result of the constant reports of the poor state of the economy, the huge deficit incurred by Government and the claim that wages and salaries were a huge chunk of that deficit.
The result of this scenario was the call to send home public sector workers as a remedy to the problem.
The majority of the temporary workers in the public service are between the ages of 18 to 35. Some of us may be too young to remember the 1991 economic crisis and its effects. However, there are some of us who can remember the look of horror and tears in our parents’ and grandparents’ eyes when they were laid off in 1991 or had to take the eight per cent salary cut.
Life is a cycle and proof of this comes, a mere 22 years later where we are faced with the possibility of suffering the same fate our parents and grandparents did in the 90s.
Many may say that we are young and can afford to be laid off but I strongly beg to differ. There are plenty of temporary workers in their mid to late 20s and early 30s who have been working in the public sector for five years or more and still are not appointed. They had hoped that the new Public Service Act would have made it easier for them to be appointed to the Public Service but their hopes have so far been in vain. Though the Public Service Act mandates that persons working for three continuous years before December 31st, 2007 be appointed, there are some who have met the criteria and still have not been appointed. These young workers, after a year or so of continuous service, would have started to take steps towards building a future. They would have approached financial institutions for loans for the purchase or improvement of properties, or to purchase a vehicle, which in some cases is a necessity in their jobs. Many have families and need to look after the livelihood of their families and maintain a comfortable standard of living.
There are temporary workers who are the only bread winners of their households and the uncertainty of tenure has been an additional burden to carry.
Plenty of temporary workers have already acquired bachelor degrees and master’s degrees, while others are now in pursuit of a first degree. The constant rise in the cost of living with no salary increase has led those workers to make endless sacrifices towards their personal development by way of tertiary education. However, with the increase in tuition fees announced in the budgetary proposals and which will be implemented from August 2014 this measure will surely make it even more difficult for the young workers already enrolled in UWI to continue. It will also put a damper on the dreams and aspirations of others who had planned on attending UWI.
The IMF and other international financial institutions have been paying special attention to the economy of Barbados and have long ago recommended the shaving of the public service. The present administration, along with the Social Partnership has ensured that this did not occur and instead agreed to a wage freeze.
The Minister of Finance mentioned a number of avenues to be explored to adjust the weight the payment of public sector wages has on the economy. Two of these avenues are shorter work weeks for temporary officers and retrenchment as a last resort.
Some of us cannot afford a cut in any way at all because we are already stretched to the limit, but it is said, half a loaf is better than no bread at all and little with content is great gain.
On the matter of retrenchment, if it comes to that point, then the agreement set out in the Protocol of last in first out, should be exercised. Trade unions must keep a watchful eye and ensure this process is fairly implemented. One trade union leader is on record saying: one job lost is one job too many. We young temporary workers have a role to play; we must become vigilant and involved and be prepared to fight on our own behalf.
We must support our individual unions as they remain vigilant and continue their effort of looking after our well-being. The trade union leaders have been around during the 1990s turbulence and they tried their best then to protect the rights of the workers. I am sure with the interest of the workers in mind they will again bring us through this tough time.