“Madness at the highest level!”
That’s how President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall yesterday dismissed a suggestion made by Minister of Housing and Lands Denis Kellman of an across-the-board public sector pay cut.
Kellman made the controversial suggestion at the weekend, as he responded to critics of Government’s move to restore the ten per cent, which was taken from the salaries of Cabinet ministers and other senior Government officials, some 30 months ago.
Members of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) are already on record as saying that they will not accept the pay increase, which, based on a resolution tabled by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler on April 15 this year, is to be retroactive to April 1.
However, Kellman is not only adamant that the monies should be restored but has also suggested that politicians should not be the only ones made to carry the burden of austerity.
“Seeing it is fair for the 10% cut, then I will ask the Minister of Finance to create the same 10% tax for all citizens by introducing a tax to take 10% of everybody’s wages and salaries – minus politicians – to level the playing field,” said Kellman in a post made on his Facebook page over the weekend.
“I am backing those who think that the 10% cut was fair, by making it fairer by taking it from everybody,” the Member of Parliament for St Lucy added in his post, which drew an immediate negative reaction from Barbadians on social media.
Asked today to comment on Kellman’s suggestion, McDowall appeared to be equally incensed, telling Barbados TODAY, “I don’t even know if [the proposal for an across-the-board pay cut] is deserving of a response.
However, he went on to describe Kellman’s “solution” as “madness at the highest level”.
“It is Kellmanomics. I think it is foolishness to even have a suggestion like that,” the NUPW President said, while suggesting that Kellman should keep quiet if he had nothing positive to say.
At the same time, the NUPW President told Barbados TODAY he was throwing his full support behind Thursday’s “march for justice” being led by the Opposition BLP.
He however made it clear that it was up to individual members of the NUPW to decide if they wanted to take part in the protest action or not, even as he called on them to rise above partisan politics.
“It should be not be based on whether you are a Barbados Labour Party supporter or a [ruling] Democratic Labour Party (DLP) supporter. It should be based on the wrongs that were done to you in the past,” suggested McDowall.
He sought to emphasize that the position being taken by the leadership of the country’s largest trade union was based on principle.
“If the BLP was in power and had done the same things, the NUPW would take the same approach,” he told Barbados TODAY, while outlining a number of reasons for supporting the BLP-led “white” march.
“We will be walking for those 3,000 public servants who were sent home two years ago, who still have not received their separation packages. We would be walking for those BIDC workers who would not have received a judgment as yet … for those Customs workers who still need their appointments . . . those sanitation workers who are yet to receive their outstanding money and who have been complaining about PPEs [personal protective equipment] for the longest while and who would also need their hazard allowance,” McDowall said.
He further pointed out that in the case of the NCC employees, there were workers who would have been severed and would have been told that the possibility existed that they might not be reinstated or re-engaged.
“We would also be walking for those workers because they would have been home for a substantial period of time and would not have received any compensation,” the union leader said, while pointing out that public servants on the whole had not received a pay increase since 2008.
He said “the straw that really broke the camel’s back” was the decision by the DLP-led Government to restore the ten per cent pay cut, saying it was clear evidence that they “would have chosen to look after themselves before looking after the people who they are chosen to serve”.
However, the DLP today voiced strong concern that the planned protest will do more harm than good.
In a statement, the party roundly condemned the march, which is scheduled for midday Thursday from Parliament to Bay Street, just outside the Office of the Prime Minister.
While commending the Government side for its performance during last week’s Opposition-sponsored no confidence motion debate in Parliament, the ruling party said it was “regrettable” that arising out of that exercise, the Mia Mottley-led BLP was now contemplating “further premeditated attempts” under “the guise of justice”.
The statement released by the DLP’s General Secretary George Pilgrim, who is also the principal political advisor to the Prime Minister, also accused the BLP of seeking to make the country ungovernable, while warning that Barbados’ small open economy had taken “a beating from the vagaries of the worst financial crisis known to man”.
“[Thursday’s march] should therefore be viewed with suspicion as this country is emerging from a period of ill health to one of recovery,” the ruling party said, adding, “attempts to disrupt the period of convalesce of a patient by anybody cannot be described as caring.
“All attempts at this course of action can severely undermine ongoing recovery efforts,” it added.