The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) says even though the Barbados dollar remains fixed at two to one against the United States dollar (Bds $1= 50 US cents), this island’s workers have essentially undergone a 30 per cent “devaluation” in their salaries and wages over the past five to six years.
The union therefore feels justified in demanding a 23 per cent pay hike for public servants for the period 2010 to 2014, taking into account a 30 per cent rise in the cost of living (including 23-24 per cent inflation) over the same period.
Treasurer Asokore Beckles today gave a detailed explanation of the union’s demand, which he said came after careful review of Government’s finances and the general state of the economy over the past year.
Beckles, who is the chairman of the NUPW’s Salaries, Wages and Allowances Committee and is currently employed as a statistician and trained economist in Government’s Statistical Department, said the union had assembled, under his leadership, a team of reputable Barbadians, including some employed in the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund to look into the matter.
And after detailed scrutiny, he said the financial committee had concluded that a double-digit wage hike for the island’s 20,000 plus public servants was far from “unreasonable”.
“The 23 per cent [rise] is actually quite affordable,” said Beckles in an exclusive interview with Barbados TODAY this afternoon, in which he said the union’s pay demand should be seen as an attempt to “normalize” wages in the public service and not as the union simply making a big pay demand on Government.
“If you look at inflation and you look at cost of living, it has increased to over 25, 27, sometimes even 30 per cent depending on the figures you look at. And if you had a 30 per cent drop in your wage, that is in essence an internal devaluation, not external as far as our exchange rate, but internally ” he contended.
He further argued that “if you had a dollar back in 2010 that dollar is now worth 70 cents, 72 cents, and everyone feels that. That is why everyone is now crying at the pump, crying in the supermarket; so what we have been trying to do with that 23 per cent is to make that number as close as possible to what is affordable to Government yet not unreasonable,” he explained.
Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler is already on record as saying Government could not afford to pay such an increase to public servants since it would come at a cost to the Treasury of $150 million per year.
However, Beckles was adamant that while an “80 per cent increase” would be unreasonable at this time, a 23 per cent hike was well in order, adding that Government had been told as much when the two sides met two weeks ago at the level of the Ministry of the Civil Service.
“They could not refute our claims . . . and that 23 per cent is very realistic,” said Beckles, who attended the meeting.
He explained that though Government was not refuting how the union arrived at its double-digit figure, “they have said we can’t give you all of that [at this time]”.
However, Beckles argued that Government could afford the $150 million – $160 million wages increase, based on this year’s Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, in which it is projecting increased spending of $114 million on goods and services alone.
“If you have a tight economy, why are you increasing spending? You should be reducing spending or keeping spending constant. So you do have the money,” he said, contending that if the Freundel Stuart administration were to adjust its spending, it could afford to pay public servants what the NUPW is asking for.
He believes increased consumption was needed to get the Barbados economy firing again. However, he said due to reduced purchasing power, there was not much stimulation of the domestic economy at the moment.
“What we are asking for is to allow the Government workers to have that money that you want to spend as a Government and let them spend the money. When they spend the money, you would see the country growing.
“I have the statistics from Antigua and other Caribbean countries like St Lucia and St Kitts. After they got an increase in salary in 2014, their GDP skyrocketed, five, six per cent after a zero to one per cent growth and that would happen to the Barbados economy as well,” argued Beckles, while adamant that Government does have the money to pay Barbadian public servants.
He also took issue with the recent move by Government to restore the ten per cent pay cut to parliamentarians and other senior officials, saying it was not only “disturbing” but also “ridiculous” for the ruling Democratic Labour Party administration to ask civil servants to hold strain while Government ministers took care of themselves in a situation where it was argued that the economy was not yet out of the woods.