There will be no softening of the National Union of Public Workers’ (NUPW) demand for a double-digit salary increase for public servants, even though Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler has painted a picture of a still bruised Barbados economy.
Sinckler hosted a news conference at Government Headquarters Monday during which he sought to reassure Barbadians that there was no “doomsday” scenario facing the island and the Barbados dollar was not in any danger of devaluation.
Still the signs of a struggling economy remained, with the minister stating that the fiscal deficit was still “too high” and that the country was facing a “stubborn” fiscal deficit and dwindling foreign reserves.
In this context, he said Government would consider a salary increase for civil servants only if the public finances could sustain the added burden.
“I would be the first to tell you that I believe that the public sector deserves an increase in their wages and salaries but I would also be the first to tell you that it has to be affordable. If based on the information that we receive, the Ministry of Finance first, and then the Cabinet, believes that it is not sustainable to give a salary increase then we would not be able to do so,” Sinckler said, explaining that the implications would be worse if Government were later forced to renege on a financial commitment to the public sector.
However, this did not deter NUPW President Akanni McDowall, who said he did not get the impression from Sinckler’s report that the economy was facing any turmoil.
As a matter of fact, McDowall told Barbados TODAY Tuesday afternoon Government’s recent decision to restore the ten per cent taken from the salaries of parliamentarians and other senior Government officers back in 2014, had made it clear the Freundel Stuart administration was in a position to meet the union’s demands.
“The Minister [of Finance] gave the impression that everything is okay. That is the impression that I got when he spoke about the number of capital projects that are supposed to come on stream, which would bring the reserves back up to the level that they are supposed to be. That is what he said,” the union boss emphasized.
Sinckler Monday said Government was committed to restoring the reserves to a “comfortable” level, boosted by a drawdown on the Sam Lord’s development project any day now and a loan from First Citizens from which proceeds were expected to flow in the coming days.
In addition, he was confident that final approval would be given to the agreement to sell the Barbados National Terminal Company Limited to the SOL group, which when taken with Sam Lord’s and First Citizens’ monies was expected to rake in some $200 million, pushing the reserves “well above” the desired 12 weeks of imports.
It was proof that Government would find the funds to give the public servants a pay rise, McDowall argued.
“The minister is saying that all is well in Barbados despite what the Opposition [Barbados Labour Party] has been trying to say. So as far as I am aware all is well in Valhalla. So it means that if all is well I have to take the temperature from the Minister of Finance, and from what we have heard it gives us more reason to ask for a salary increase for public servants,” he maintained.
Asked if the NUPW would seek to advance its cause by joining the March 11 “march of disgust” organized by the Opposition, McDowall said the union had not received a formal request from the organizers, and even if it did, it would be the executive body’s decision.
However, the union president contended that members who felt they had reason to be “disgusted” were free to join the march.
“On an individual basis I am disgusted. I am disgusted that as a public servant I have not received a salary increase in eight years. I am disgusted by the fact that there are outstanding appointments for many public servants. I am also disgusted that it takes three or four months for temporary public servants to be paid when they just enter the public service. So there is a lot for public servants to be disgusted about. So I would not be discouraging any public servant as an individual to take part in the march if they are disgusted,” he said.