A top union official is claiming that more than 80 per cent of the workers who were recently sent home by the Freundel Stuart administration have been rehired.
As part of spending cuts announced back in 2013, an estimated 3,000 workers were to be sent home, with Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler suggesting at the time that the plan to cut public sector jobs would result in Government saving as much as $143 million.
The minister of finance had also said that Government had agreed to institute a “strict programme of attrition” across the central public service, filling posts only where it is absolutely unavoidable, over the next five years, ending 2018-2019.
“This attrition is expected to reduce central government employment levels from approximately 16, 970 to 14,612 jobs – a projected loss of 2,358 posts and savings of $121 million.
“Over the current 19-month adjustment period public sector employment will be reduced by an additional 501 jobs with a projected savings of $26 million,” Sinckler added, while also announcing at the time that the salaries of Government ministers and other political appointees would be reduced by ten per cent.
However, just recently Government moved to Parliament to restore the salaries of the political appointees.
And addressing the opening of the NUPW’s 73rd annual conference last evening, General Secretary Roslyn Smith suggested that the clock hand had also been turned back on public sector job cuts, while warning that Barbadians were being made “perpetual pawns, scapegoats and playthings” of the country’s political leaders.
Smith said Government had severed over 3,000 workers “in the lower rungs of the public sector only”, but had since “gradually and discretely” rehired over 2,500 to date.
Efforts to get Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to respond to that claim today were unsuccessful.
However, a senior Government official this evening rubbished the union’s suggestion, while telling Barbados TODAY that the overall public sector wage bill had been reduced since 2013. The official, who did not want to be identified, also assured that only 1,800 workers were actually sent home over the past three years, while stating that on average 600 workers had retired per year over the same period.
The official however acknowledged that while the baseline salaries of public servants had generally remained the same, provision has had to be made for between $30 million and $50 million per year in increments.
The well-placed Government source also pointed out that the National Conservation Commission (NCC), which was one of the statutory entities hardest hit by the home-grown fiscal consolidation programme, was currently operating below the minimum requirement. In fact, the official said it was currently short of 170 workers as a result of the recent retrenchments, as well as internal sick leave.
This position is totally at odds with that espoused by Smith in her lengthy address last night, in which she acknowledged that relations between Government and her union had soured since 2014. In fact, Smith said the NUPW, which was once viewed as “a darling for agreeing to hold strain and not seek a pay increase for its membership” was now considered not only to be “the worst institution in Barbados”, but also to be “partisan and mad” because it decided “that it cannot morally continue to support Government in this particular regard”.
“Despite the vilifications and distractions the NUPW must believe in the fairness of its case as well as in its strength, “ she said, while asking, “Didn’t Government believe in the fairness and strength of restoring their ten per cent pay?”
She therefore made it clear that while the NUPW was willing to compromise on its current 23 per cent wage demand, a wage cut, as recently suggested by prominent local businessman Andrew Bynoe, was a “non-starter” for the NUPW, even though she said the union saw merit in his recommendation that a portion of the proposed salary increase be paid in Government bonds.
In her wide-ranging, stinging address, Smith slammed Government over its treatment of workers, saying it was ridiculous for the ruling Democratic Labour Party to be demanding more of workers when it had not provided the necessary resources to boost productivity.
She also took aim at the umbrella Congress of Trade Unions and Staff Associations (CTUSAB), saying it appeared to be “there to satisfy the needs, wants and public relation requirements of Government.
“There are national matters which CTUSAB is better suited to handle or take the lead on, but CTUSAB should have no part in pay increases, NCC terminations . . . it is not a trade union,” Smith said.
The NUPW General Secretary also suggested a need for greater private sector scrutiny, while questioning: “How is it that hotels are allowed unaudited offshore accounts in the form of all-inclusive booking arrangements over which the Central Bank seemingly has no control and only apparently receives foreign exchange crumbs?”