The National Union of Public Workers is tonight rubbishing suggestions that It has not been looking after the interests of its membership, especially as far as it concerns the Government-anticipated layoff of 3,000 civil servants, starting in the New Year.
NUPW general secretary Dennis Clarke told the media, after a close to four-and-a-half-hour meeting with temporary workers, that there was no “seal of approval” on the cuts announced in Parliament a week ago tomorrow by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
“We have not been told by anyone that [the cuts are] non-negotiable. There is a lot of misinformation being spread. If this was not the case, we would not be meeting next week to negotiate, or we would not have been submitting proposals.
“We said yesterday that there is a small window, and it is open for us to negotiate with the Ministry of the Civil Service. We are looking at before Christmas.
“After we have our first round of talks, we will be able to say something definitively,” he noted.
Barbados TODAY understands that there are at least five proposals on the table. The first of them speaks to voluntary retirement for public workers in Central Government and statutory corporations. This would require amendments to various pieces of legislation.
Another speaks to early retirement at age 55, giving those persons who choose this option to be given a year’s salary in Government bonds, which would mature at the end of five years. This would be in addition to their pensions and gratuity. The third option speaks to the freezing of increments for a two-year period, while the fourth and fifth speak to a reduction in the work week, and having statutory boards treated in the same manner as a Government ministry.
However, asked whether or not he could confirm if these were in fact being pushed by the union, Clarke would only say that the executive council met and came up with a number of proposals.
“[A]nd we have refused to speak to the media until we meet with the workers to inform them [about] what we are doing on their behalf and seek their approval. [Proposals] like the reduction of, if needs be, of pay . . . a three per cent pay cut . . . . We can’t just simply come and throw [these] on members without getting approval from our executive and our council –– and we did that.
“And we came here this evening to inform them and to see if it would get their blessing. If they do not want them then they will not go on the table,” Clarke stressed, while adding that the workers gave the NUPW the approval to move forward, but with the cut as another last resort.
Come Monday, NUPW will meet with the Ministry of the Civil Service to put their proposals on the table.
“The workers want to remain on the job. They do not want to be laid off, and quite frankly that is the main aim of the union, that whatever we do and how we negotiate; we must come up with a package that will see the 3,000 workers remaining employed in the Public Service. We felt that we could save these jobs from day one, and that has not changed. We are heartened by some of the ideas we had from the floor that we are going use in the negotiations,” he added.
Meanwhile, a local political scientist is of the view that Government’s plan to send home civil servants, starting next month, will be “counterproductive”.
Dr Don Marshall further believes that there are a number of alternatives that could be put on the table.
“There are two real issue [in this situation] one is that we may have an overstaffed civil service to some extent. So it is a question of deploying the skills where they are needed and another issue is that we cannot treat to the economic crisis that we are facing like an accountant. We have to find a [different] approach,” he stressed.
Questioned if initiatives such as shorter work-weeks, p ay cuts or even early retirement would help, he suggested that it could result in a smaller number of persons having to be dismissed.
“[B]ut ultimately, we should not take revenue-raising measures off the table and I think that that seems to have been the case. I know there is a sense in which we have been taxed to the max, some would argue . . . and we, being the persons earning $25,000 or more . . . . [But] there are some measures that can be taken at the gasoline pump for example. We can raise money by [charging] ten or maybe 15 cents a litre.
“We can raise money through going back to the 2008 proposal in relation to cellphone tax. That is to say, put a tax on post-paid bills and a tax on prepaid vouchers. So there are a number of things that we can do,” Marshall said.