It may be the bitter medicine which public sector unions are simply afraid to swallow, but the private sector in Barbados says it fully backs worker retrenchment as a means of slashing Government’s worrisome spending bill and stabilizing the struggling economy.
At the same time, the chairman of the Private Sector Association of Barbados, John Williams, and the president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI), Lalu Vaswani, have both given the assurance the business community has no intention of laying off employees just because Government may do so.
“Although there may be some contraction in spending, it could also be a signal that the Government is finally ready to tackle its expenditure problems, and this, in a way, could then give a level of confidence that we are starting to implement those decisions that have to be taken,” Williams told Barbados TODAY this afternoon.
“And with that confidence, then comes persons’ willingness to invest in the economy. So in the short term there may be pain, but in the long term there could be gain,” the private sector leader reasoned.
Only yesterday, Barbados TODAY published a story that quoted University of the West Indies economist Professor Michael Howard and Commonwealth Secretariat advisor Travis Mitchell as saying the Freundel Stuart administration had no alternative but to cut the public service wages bill, as it seeks to rightsize the economy.
Both men also agreed that such a decision would have ripple effects and lead to job losses in the private sector, which has to fight to stay afloat due to a decline in spending. But Williams is making it clear that any laying off in the public arena would not be a cue for the private sector to do the same, even though he is not ruling out the likelihood that some private sector jobs could go.
“Although there were understandings at the start of the financial and economic crisis, four or five years ago, and undertakings to try and hold employment, which still stands, nonetheless, it was always understood that whatever the entities, in particular, the private sector, they will have to make their decisions to ensure their own survival and viability of the entities themselves,” pointed out the business leader.
“ [But] I don’t think anybody in the business community is waiting for the Government to do anything as a cue for taking their own actions,” he stressed. Chamber president Vaswani agreed with Williams that while the two sectors cooperated, they were independent in the decisions they made for the protection of staff and the viability of their operations. “I feel that the two sectors are working independently of each other, but within the national economy. The private sector does not have the luxury of delaying action that would jeopardize its own stability within the individual companies, and so, they have to take action promptly, to protect their viability and the security of their investment and of their staff security,” the business executive said.
Vaswani told Barbados TODAY if adjustments had to be made to protect the majority of workers and the investments, “the issue of the public sector is more one of an economic nature, where the lack of implementing whatever action is necessary to protect the fundamental economic situation, which is to address the growing fiscal deficit, that is where it will impact the growing deficit”.
The BCCI boss was of the view that the growing deficit caused a lack of stability in the economy, which had resulted in a lack of confidence by external forces, as well as local investors. He suggested that such investments would not be mobilized, if investors felt that the right and proper action was not being taken in a timely manner.
Vaswani argued, too, that people would not expose new investments to higher grades of risk. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart told reporters Cabinet had not made any decision about sending home public workers, after the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) made clear its opposition to any layoffs by his administration.