A member of the Freundel Stuart Cabinet is imploring the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) to look with pity upon the administration, which is having a tough time meeting its fiscal responsibilities.
With the NUPW threatening industrial action to force Government back to the negotiating table, Minister of International Business, Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss today said any such action would further threaten the island’s already fragile fiscal position.
“I note that they are now threatening to take industrial action. I really hope that common sense can prevail upon the management and leadership of the trade union to realize the fragility of our economy and not to engage in any activities that can cause further dislocation to this economy and society,” Inniss pleaded in his contribution to the debate on the 2017/2018 Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure.
The NUPW General Council on Monday decided to engage in industrial action at a yet to be announced date, to pressure the administration to resume talks on the union’s demand for 23 per cent pay rise for public servants.
The two sides last met in October last year, during which they made no progress, and Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler made no provisions in the Estimates for salary increases.
The union insists that its research has found that Government can afford a wage hike, and it has dug in its heels even further following the decision by legislators of the ruling Democratic Labour Party to restore the ten per cent that was cut from their salaries and that of senior public servants in 2014 during the height of austerity.
However, Inniss today told fellow parliamentarians while trade unions were expected to demand pay rises from time and time – and Government had a duty to meet with the unions – any demand must take into consideration the state of the economy.
“I certainly am not going to fool myself into believing that any 23 per cent increase in salary is palatable and acceptable in that context,” the minister said, adding that trade union leaders should be knowledgeable enough to realize that what they were asking for was “grossly unreasonable”.
In fact, Inniss contended that the wage bill was already too high and far from granting a pay increase, Government should sever even more workers to lower its bill.
“If we are to cut wages and salaries the way it really can be cut, apart from what we did many years ago, is to reduce the size of the public sector. Is that something we are prepared to do? My view, and I have been very consistent on this, is that I hold steadfast to the view that the size of the public sector can be reduced, but I wish it be done as we increase the size of the private sector, because massive unemployment in Barbados brings with it serious social dislocation that can affect us maybe two and three generations down the line,” he said.
His position on cuts is directly at odds with that of Sinckler, who in January gave the assurance there would be no more mass lay-offs.
In wrapping up debate on the resolutions to restore the ten per cent, Sinckler had said he preferred “a process of attrition and reorganization” to reduce both the size of the public service and the wages bill.