Former trade unionist Robert Bobby Morris says while he is prepared to leave the final decision on any salary increases to both Government and his former colleagues in the labour movement, the Freundel Stuart administration should proceed with extreme caution on such proposals.
“As I say, I don’t like to interfere with these things,” Morris told Barbados TODAY right after delivering Friday’s Democratic Labour Party luncheon lecture at the party’s George Street, Belleville, St Michael headquarters.
However, he said: “If Government looks at the situation and that increase could worsen their situation, worsen the deficit that they plan, erode further the debt situation they have, the Government would have to make a decision and to come to the people and say, ‘listen, I would like to do that but not at the expense to be putting pressure on [Government].’”
The retired labour leader further warned that “the matter was not an emotional thing at all”. In fact, were pay increases left to him, they would all be based on some performance factor.
“I would love to see the day when all salary negotiations, private and public sector, have a performance factor related,” he stressed.
Morris, who spent approximately 30 years in the trade union movement, also pointed out the private sector pay hikes were only given to workers “where it can be afforded”.
He also said that even though workers in the public sector had not received a pay rise in a number of years, it did not mean they were not receiving bigger pay packets, since some had been receiving annual increments.
However, as the island’s largest public sector union, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), prepares to meet with temporary public officers here on Monday to update them on salary talks with Government, President Akanni McDowall is contending that Government can afford to pay public workers a salary increase.
“We don’t believe that Government does not have enough money to pay public servants. We just believe that Government is mismanaging the money that it has,” McDowall told Barbados TODAY Friday evening, while insisting that civil servants had been made to suffer too long.
“They have not received a salary increase since 2008; they would have had numerous taxes imposed on them, high cost of living and the inflation rate has risen overtime. Public servants have been suffering for too long and they continue to suffer . . . and to ask public servants again not to receive a salary increase at this time is unreasonable,” the union boss argued.
He also questioned how Government could be asking workers to hold strain, while parliamentarians and other senior public officers just had their ten per cent salary cut restored.
“You cannot on one hand ask for your money and then on the other hand say to the people you are supposed to be serving that they can’t receive any money. Something is wrong with that,” the NUPW leader said.
And in response to a suggestion by former Prime Minister Owen Arthur that the NUPW should show exactly how it expect Government to meet its 23 per cent demand given the island’s precarious economic situation, McDowall said the time would soon come when the NUPW would expose the whole truth about the state of the economy.
McDowall said he was confident that the union was on firm ground in demanding more pay, based on the advice of a well-respected technical team of experts, lecturers from the University of the West Indies (UWI) and people who sit at the United Nations, including some current advisors to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler.
“So they are specialists, experienced technical people who are on this team advising the union as to whether or not the Government can afford to pay public officers’ salary increases . . . and they have said to us, ‘yes’. They have given us the information and at some point, we will present that information to the public,” McDowall promised.
He therefore said his union would not be sidetracked by those seeking to make it difficult for workers to get their due.
Last month the NUPW had threatened to turn up the pressure on the Freundel Stuart administration, after Government parliamentarians voted to restore the ten per cent taken from their salaries in 2014 at the height of austerity.
However, McDowall said even though the union was anxious to get back to the negotiating table with Government, he did not think they were yet at the stage of taking industrial action to press their pay demands. But he cautioned that his union was not prepared to wait forever.