It’s not a salary increase, it’s a pay restoration!
That’s the latest argument being put forward by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) in response to recent suggestions by outspoken Government minister Donville Inniss that the union’s demands for a 23 per cent pay hike for public servants is downright unreasonable.
“When the cost of living has increased by over 30 per cent, then any salary increase can no longer be considered an increase, it has to be considered as a restoration of salaries and wages,” Chairman of the NUPW’s Salary, Wages and Allowances Committee Asokore Beckles said in response Tuesday.
Beckles, the union’s general treasurer, also accused the Freundel Stuart administration of “disrespecting” public servants who had made tremendous sacrifices for the good of the country, while again raising the issue of the recent ten per cent pay restoration afforded senior Government officials, who had accepted a pay cut back in 2014 at the height of an austerity programme.
“Do they know that the same workers they speak so disrespectfully of, have been spending their own money to buy gauze and gloves necessary to care for citizens of this country? They should be ashamed to speak about not giving civil servants of this country what is owed to them and then pay themselves before they pay us,” he told Barbados TODAY.
With a firm timetable yet to be established for the resumption of negotiations between the two sides, which last met in October last year, Beckles also rejected suggestions that the union was frustrating the process, while insisting that the NUPW had been nothing but cooperative with Government, and again appealing to the Stuart administration to stop stalling on the pay talks.
However, while Government has not taken the issue off the table altogether, Inniss, who has been most forceful publicly on the issue in recent weeks, has been adamant that Government’s wage bill is already too high and that 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,” the minister of International Business, Industry, Commerce and Small Business Development has said.
However, the NUPW treasurer said the union had done the necessary research and had submitted a well thought out proposal, which it believes is affordable.
Beckles has therefore called on Government to come clean on the true state of the economy, while arguing that “one minute when it suited them, the economy was good enough to warrant their ten per cent, [but] now, the real workers in their country ask for their due and they are told the state of economy is too bad”.
He has also demanded to know if the economy was so bad, why had Government increased its spending on goods and services by over $110 million within the last two years.
“Why is the Government spending over $150 million more than it did last year. Why couldn’t that money have been given to public servants in order to foster demand and stimulate the economy?” Beckles questioned, while lamenting that in the absence of clear answers all that had been forthcoming had been insults and attempts at intimidation on the part of Government.
“I personally have been targeted for my stance and my position as the chairman of the Salary, Wages and Allowances Committee. Rather than meet with us to cooperate and have mature discussions, they make grand, disrespectful statements in the media,” he said.