Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has broken his silence over layoffs in the island’s public service saying, “no decisions had been made by the Cabinet of Barbados” on the issue. However, he has hinted that the Government could soon be forced to take steps to reduce its wages and salaries bill.
“Government has always taken the position that so far as is possible, resort to layoff would be a kind of last option when every other option has failed. We have not taken any decision at the level of the Cabinet of Barbados on the layoff of any people in the public service.
“That is an issue, which we are discussing within the context of the state of the economy of Barbados. The revenues of the country have been facing serious challenges for a little while now and if you are earning less by way of revenue, you have to look at your expenditure,” he revealed, drawing reference to the Government fiscal programme announced in the August Budget.
Stuart explained that only three months of that initiative had so far passed, and he was
not in a position to say “there will be layoffs or that there will not be layoffs, because the Cabinet has not taken any decisions on that issue. We still practise Cabinet Government. Cabinet has to take those decisions”. The Prime Minister noted that of the revenue that Government earns, 54.3 per cent was spent on wages and salaries.
“. . . [That] is not a frightening percentage if you are earning all of the revenues you need to pay wages and salaries comfortably. [It] becomes a challenge when your corporate tax revenues are down, when your income taxes are down, when your property taxes are a challenge; and therefore within the context of those realities the money spent on wages and salaries would have to be examined now,” he revealed.
Stuart further gave the assurance that whatever action needed to be taken to ensure that Barbados remained stable and economically viable, would be taken, “but not . . . whimsically or capriciously”.
“We [will] take it after careful study of what the objective circumstances are. I am not in a position to say anything else beyond that. I’ll just repeat that we have some
revenue challenges and that those revenue challenges are bound to affect how we spend the revenue we are in fact earning.
“Government is employing people and it has to be able to afford to pay them, and that is the context therefore within which we deal with all of these issues. As I have said, in August when we presented the Budget, no room is safe if a structure is unsound and therefore the Government’s primary responsibility is to ensure that the national structure is sound, so that whatever rooms in that structure people occupy they can feel safe. That is the position,” the Prime Minister posited.
In an interview yesterday with Barbados TODAY, general secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Dennis Clarke, said that as far as he was concerned the union did not accept the whole approach to layoffs because the workers, as promised, should not be laid off in the public service.
“. . . And that is basically our position in the whole matter. They [Government] have to find alternatives at this point in time when all over the world we see public servants are being taken advantage of.
“They are bearing the bruntof the burden in this economic crisis,” he said, adamantly calling too on a true figure of the number of persons that were employed within the public sector.
“We need to know because the Government’s figures differs from ours.” “Meanwhile, the island’s largest trade
union, the Barbados Workers’ Union, has cautioned Government that it will need to have discussions with those trade unions which might be involved in job fallouts which might occur as Government seeks to rein in its spending and cut its wages and salaries bill.
This warning follows a meeting last Thursday between the BWU and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of the Civil Service, Alyson Forte, where labour noted that while it recognized the Ministry of Finance was still heavily involved in a programme to revise financial targets for the country, the Ministry of the Civil Service, for its part, would be careful “to guide and advise those parastatal agencies under its influence to ensure similar consultations before the fact.”