The one thing Barbados does not need at this time is labour unrest! Add to that as another unwanted, an upset cadre of public officers, who fear enough for their jobs not to take industrial action, but who at the same time are so disaffected that the level and quality of their performance are not near what is expected or required.
It would appear, however, that is exactly where the Barbados public sector is headed as a result of layoffs and fears of layoff occasioned by Government’s budgetary decision to cut $430 million in spending.
For sure, no one can deny that Government’s finances are tremendously strained and that there is no way the country could survive if some action is not taken to create a more even balance between state revenues and expenditure.
However, as we have said before, the Government is not helping its cause with the way it introduced the subject and more importantly, the way it is implementing the decision. We believe the Minister of Finance made a major mistake when he did not take the time to spell out to Barbadians exactly how the decision would be translated into actual cuts.
Most reasonable people would long have concluded that you could not cut that amount from Government’s spending without an impact on jobs — but what many apparently did not anticipate was that they would have been among the casualties.
Further, we believe that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart did not help the situation when he spoke on the matter, although we sincerely believe that from his tone and context he was genuinely trying to allay fears.
But when the minister says emphatically there will be no jobs losses, and people start losing their jobs; then when the Prime Minister says he is not aware of these lost jobs, all those who are impacted are left to believe is that those who are behind the wheel and not really steering the vehicle.
Enough water has flowed under the bridge for those in charge to recognise without a shadow of doubt that an increasing number of Bajans are fearful and agitated and it is therefore time for “clear and unambiguous” explanations.
We don’t expect to hear that no jobs will be lost because clearly we are beyond that point. It is time for Government to come clean with the numbers and to state emphatically from where they will be lost. Perhaps those who are supposed to speak are still working out the results, but that does not lessen to need to communicate with the public.
We know some will argue that we are exaggerating the situation, but we don’t believe that the hundreds of temporary public officers who gathered at the headquarters of the National Union of Public Workers yesterday evening were conjured up by us. They are real people with real fears — perhaps fuelled more by the unknown than the known.
Many of them must be replaying the words of the minister in his Budget and wondering what has changed — if they misunderstood what he meant when he said:
“Government has been careful to design these expenditure adjustments in such a manner as to limit the potential for major job losses in the public service, through instructing line ministries and statutory entities to use retrenchment as a last resort, while preferring to institute creative programmes for work hours/days/week reductions among staff.
“The Ministry of the Civil Service and the Ministry of Finance will assume general oversight of the implementation of this aspect of the measures so as to ensure that the targets are achieved while adherence to the preferred approach outlined by Government is maintained.”
So we ask: Where’s this oversight?