General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) Toni Moore has delivered a stinging rebuke of the Freundel Stuart administration’s handling of the economy, suggesting the authorities were asleep while the prospects remained frightening and grim.
In questioning why economic proposals presented to Stuart by two working groups of the Social Partnership had not been discussed with stakeholders, Moore likened the situation to Alice in Wonderland, the 1865 novel in which the main character fell through a rabbit hole into a land of fantasy.
However, in her May Day address at Browne’s Beach yesterday, the BWU leader painted an even more frightening scenario, saying in the present case the country would wake up to an ongoing nightmare.
“The Barbados Workers Union is concerned that there seems to be a lack of urgency. We are taking our time as if to suggest that the economy will settle itself. We seem to be experiencing the Alice in Wonderland effect; the only fundamental difference being that Alice actually woke up and she was able to recognize that she was dreaming. When we actually wake up we will realize that the nightmare that we are in continues,” she stated.
It was one of several scathing comments that Moore made about the administration, charging that it had failed to demonstrate leadership at a time of economic challenges.
At the beginning of her speech, the union leader admitted she had struggled to determine the right tone, saying she was also concerned that her statements might be interpreted as political, as Barbados was into the “silly season”.
However, she said there were “so many missteps” and “much that isn’t right”, that she could not lower the BWU’s standard “for fear of being politically aligned”.
“Failure to speak up may very well imply complicity on matters and in decisions that would likely further subjugate workers into positions of inferiority, inequality, ignorance, or . . . poverty,” she said.
Moore told public and private sector employees gathered for the event that public servants had not received a salary increase for almost a decade, and would soon be asked to accept further wage restraint “at the same time the leaders in Government put back on a ten per cent [on their salaries] which was taken off as a show of identifying with people”, including those who had been retrenched.
“So we will not apologize to the leaders, or as Sir Frank [Walcott] would have said, ‘the creatures of Government’, when we challenge that the Government of Barbados has failed to demonstrate leadership.
“In fact, at a time when the financial suffering is greater than it was three years ago, and at a time when at every turn we are hearing about bigger and more bitter pills to be swallowed, one must wonder how in the name of conscience could a fair and caring Government decide to restore themselves and expect public servants to continue to restrain themselves?”
Among the recommendations put forward by the two committees, mandated by Stuart on March 3 to come up with proposals on how to address rising debt and dwindling reserves, were the reduction of the Value Added Tax (VAT) to between ten and 15 per cent and increases in airport and cruise taxes.
Moore admitted that some of the recommendations “may turn out to be not too inappropriate under the circumstances”, but insisted a broad discussion was needed on “proposals of such seriousness coming at such a critical time in our economic environment”.
“I therefore say to you that if the Barbados Workers Union is not given the opportunity to fully ventilate these before the budget . . . plus have the benefit of the consultations which the Minister of Finance would customarily have to precede the budget presentation, we will not identify with the proposals and we will reserve our full comment for after the budget statement,” Moore told workers.
The BWU boss said while the union had not yet accepted or rejected any of the recommendations, it flatly rejected the suggestion “that no industrial action would be a criterion by which to measure the success of the proposals”.
“In the Barbados Workers Union we will not be the kind of unionists that look to Governments for special handouts. This is a message not only for the Government of today, but those aspiring to be the Government of tomorrow,” she said.
The labour leader also hit back at Minister of Housing and Lands Denis Kellman, who said in Parliament last week that those opposed to the proposed Hyatt Centric project on Bay Street, The City, were “enemies of the state” – a clear reference to attorney-at-law and social activist David Comissiong, who has taken legal action against the multi-million dollar project.
Moore said while Barbadian workers have had to carry more than their fair share of the effects of the economic downturn, “it is scary when in challenging times, economic forces seem to be positive only in the direction of a privileged few.
“And dare we speak out against the inequity even on the basis of wanting to verify the environmental integrity of certain decisions, we are deemed enemies of the state,” she said.
“Brothers and sisters we are deemed enemies of the state for speaking out, but the enemy that we should be aware of and be afraid of is the enemy of our democracy. That which wishes to tell us that we can’t see wrong and speak about it for fear of recrimination,” she said.