Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has not ruled out the possibility of a pay hike for the island’s 20,000 plus public servants. However, he today served early notice that his Government would not be embarking “on a carnival of spending”.
While acknowledging that at least “one significant request” had been made by the island’s trade unions, the Prime Minister cautioned that “salary negotiations were never settled just on the basis of what trade unions want, but based on the realities Government faces.
“When all is said and done, there are indices that we have to look at in determining what the Government can afford in salary negotiations. We have to look at our deficit, we have to look at the various heads of expenditure, in many cases structured expenditure, in which the Government is involved and which the Government has to remain committed”.
The country’s two largest unions, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) and the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) last month announced they were ready to begin pay talks with the ruling Democratic Labour Party administration after news surfaced that Government was moving to restore the ten per cent pay cut imposed on parliamentarians and other senior public servants in 2014.
However the unions have differed on the level of increase with the NUPW calling for a 23 per cent hike, while the BWU has countered with a 15 per cent increase, which it claimed was more realistic.
Stuart told journalists at a media luncheon he hosted at his official residence, Ilaro Court, he was not aware that the Ministry of the Civil Service had received any formal proposals from the unions.
He said while the Government was prepared to contemplate the issue, the negotiations would have to take place on the basis that the economy, though showing signs of a turnaround, was still not out of the woods.
“We don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where the International Monetary Fund or the Central Bank believe that we have turned the corner; that it is believed that we can embark on a carnival of spending as though we are out of the woods. We are not out of the woods,” he insisted.
“There are still many risks out there which we are trying to deal with and which we have to be aware and therefore negotiations with trade unions will take place within that context,” he told the media representatives.
The Prime Minister disclosed there were also non-salary items on the table, which he said were raised at his last meeting with the NUPW and assured they would also be given prominence.
“We have been looking at some of those issues as well with a view to establishing some kind of balance between settlements that involve the payment of money and settlement that involve an enlargement of the opportunities for public officers to enjoy better conditions of service.”
As Stuart outlined his position on proposed increases for civil servants who have been forced to endure a six-year wait for wage increase, journalists pressed the Prime Minister for his position on the reinstatement of the ten per cent pay cut for parliamentarians and senior public officers.
Dismissing the Opposition Barbados Labour Party’s suggestion that restoration was a pay hike, he said it was nothing more than a “ bold lie”, while making it clear that he would not compromise with a lie, but fight for the truth.
The Prime Minister explained that when he ordered members of Cabinet and other officials to give up ten per cent of their salaries, he had also pledged that it would be returned at the end of the 19-month fiscal consolidation programme.
As a result, he said, “The time has come for the restoration, and for me it is no longer an issue of dollar and cents. It is a moral issue which confronts me with the question: “Do I compromise with a lie boldly told and a lie that was known to be a lie and explain simply on the basis that when it is restored you will be getting more than you were getting a month or two months ago? Do I compromise with that lie, that gross misrepresentation of the truth, or do I fight for the truth itself? My answer to your question is I will fight for the truth,” he said.