Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has raised the option of pay-cuts as a partial solution to Government’s intended retrenchment of 3,000 public sector workers.
Stuart told reporters just after the launch of the procurement of a new ultra low sulphur diesel at Government headquarters this morning, that while it’s not a measure the Government would have contemplated, such an option was opened to trade unions.
However, the Prime Minister insisted that it’s not a solution his administration was likely to accept. He described any such proposal as a “band aid” solution to a systemic problem, where 55 cents of every dollar earned, was being spent on wages and salaries.
Government said it was laying off the workers in order to reduce spending on salaries and wages, which is contributing to its massive fiscal deficit, while revenue continued to decline.
Speaking ahead of a meeting today with the National Union of the Public Workers to discuss the severing of the workers, scheduled to go on the breadline between January and March next year, the Prime Minister assured the nation that the process will be implemented orderly, and after careful analysis to ensure it is as smooth as possible.
He said the disruption of households will be minimal, but pointed out that Government’s objectives must be achieved.
“The NUPW is meeting with me, I will see what they are putting on the table, and to the extent that anything they put on the table can alleviate the possible distress, that could be caused to members of their constituency, that can be sure the Government will not frown on suggestions that are helpful,” asserted the head of Government.
He reasoned that no Government anywhere in the world, no matter how perverse, would simply cut jobs, for the sake of cutting jobs.
“The issue always is that you are trying to deal with a specific problem or a specific suite of problems that require to take this kind of action,” argued Stuart.
“Section 112 of the Constitution was amended in 1995 to disable Government from reducing public servants’ salaries; this is an option that is still being exercised in other parts of the world in order to keep people employed.
“I am not suggesting at all that that is an option that we would have wanted to contemplate. What I am saying though, that it is an option that is open, to a certain extent, to unions representative institutions of the workers, to put on the table, as a way, partially out of this,” the prime Minister declared.
“Quite frankly,” he continued, “that’s only going to be [a] band aid anyhow, because, as I said, we have a systemic challenge. It is just untenable for you to be spending 55 cents out of every dollar you earn on paying wages and salaries. 10.3 per cent of your gross domestic product on wages and salaries, the highest in the Caribbean, is just untenable.
“We have to steer clear at this stage, of band aid solutions. We have to get to the root of the problem, deal with it, so that in the medium to long term, everybody is happy.”
He noted that any proposal by trade unions for a last-dicth reduction in the 3,000 public workers being sent home, was unlikely to be accepted by the Government. The Prime Minister suggested that while a cut in the numbers, or a halt to the retrenchments were options opened to the unions, such measures would only be a “band aid”.
He said he was meeting today with the National Union of Public Workers to hear its alternative proposals to address the layoffs, but warned that Government would not be favouring any short term remedies that didn’t get to the root of the massive deficit.
Stuart insisted that Government had “held the hands of workers” for the past six years, but could no longer do so at a time when more than 50 cents in every dollar was being spent on public sector wages and salaries.
“I was in touch yesterday with the officialdom of the National Union of Public Workers with whom I am intending to have a meeting hopeful today, because I am advised by them that they have some suggestions that they would like to put on the table, to see how best these suggestions can ameliorate the asperities of the intended layoffs.
“I will meet with them, hopefully today, and see how best we can cooperate what they have to say in what it is we are doing,” added the Government leader.
“Let’s remember this, when you pursue narrow political objectives and just try to catch headlines, the results can be long-term. (EJ)