The day of reckoning for thousands of civil
servants has been pushed back.
After meeting today for two hours with
representatives of the island’s two major
trade unions, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart
announced that the start of the Government’s
dreaded retrenchment programme, which was
scheduled to begin on January 15, had now be
delayed until month-end at the latest.
This is to allow the Ministry of the Civil
Service to complete the final list of people who
would be sent home.
In explaining the situation, Stuart said
“because of the constraints under which we
have had to operate in even generating the list,
[it] has proven to be a bigger challenge than
would have been the case back in 1991 [the last
occasion when large numbers of public servants
were sent home].
“[Back then] there [were] no casual workers
around; there is a Public Service Act in
place . . . [no] constitutional amendments in
place and all the constraints that did not exist
“The Ministry of the Civil Service has
taken a little more time. It has had to be a
lot more careful. What I have said is that we
target now the end of this month [January];
that deadline is not negotiable. By Thursday, I
imagine that the Cabinet paper that deals with
the modalities we will be following will come
up for consideration,” Stuart said as he emerged from the
talks accompanied by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and
Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo.
The Prime Minister added that once Government had
finalized its way forward, it would be able to share the
definitive information with the unions. He also indicated that
the Ministry of the Civil Service would, in a matter of days,
have the final list ready.
“Once I see that final list [and] I am able to approve
it, I will share it with the unions so that we can start to
have meaningful discussion with their members. [But] that
January 15 deadline [outlined by the Minister of Finance on
December 13, last year] is nothing more than a pipe dream,”
Stuart told reporters.
Also commenting at the end of this evening’s talks,
the Barbados Workers’ Union general secretary Sir Roy
Trotman downplayed the January 15 deadline that had
initially been set by the Government, saying that it was not a
good way in which to have negotiations.
“[H]aving those discussions in circumstances where
a deadline was being waved as though it was a red flag
that would constitute a situation, which we could not be
comfortable with . . . the 15th now does not hold the level
of trepidation, which it did previously.
“That is not to say that we don’t have a
problem. Government has said that there is a problem of
being able to find hard cash to pay the level of public sector
workers that it is currently paying. We have understood that
for quite sometime but we have at the sane time been trying
to have a number of things rationalized, made public, made
clear enough so that once we know what there is, we can
endeavour to put our alternatives,” Sir Roy told journalists.
He revealed the alternatives, which the unions would be
putting up, might not meet the levels of saving required by
the Government; but in any case, he said, it was not their
role to, as workers’ bargaining agents, to find
all the solutions.
“It is enough that we will carry out our function to
protect the interests of the working class, particularly our
members. We have been trying to do that and push forward
proposals, which, if accepted, and if acted upon, will go a long
way towards assuaging some of the pain and suffering which
is still around the corner, despite this third meeting that we
have had,” the BWU spokesman pointed out.
For their part, the National Union of Public Workers
[NUPW] representatives said that they would have to first
report to their executive council, before agreeing to a way
forward with Government.
President Walter Maloney said though he was generally
happy that the talks had “moved forward a bit” and that there
was still room for there to be some latitude in terms
of the cuts.
“We must also be cognizant, too, that there is a time
frame in which we have to act in this manner. The union has
understood this. This is not about the NUPW and the BWU.
It also has to be about the other unions as well,” he said.