Ahead of the May 30 National Budget presentation, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) has sounded a stern warning to Government that the island’s public servants are already at the point of saturation.
Therefore, the union says, now is not the time to be piling on any more taxes on Government workers, who it also described as overburdened.
“The public servants of Barbados were among the depositors of the credit unions who were taxed [and] we are playing a dangerous game with the social fabric of this country if we do not understand that the public service is currently saturated,” NUPW President Akanni McDowall said in a written statement to Barbados TODAY Thursday evening.
He further cautioned that the very social fabric that has held the society together stood to be destroyed, with some workers now faced with a choice of “feeding their families, buying medication or paying their commitment for their shelter” and already vulnerable to corruption.
“They are amenable to ‘cutting corners’ where there is opportunity to recover some of their displaced income. When a country reaches that point it is precariously perched and could lose the credibility and order a functioning society needs,” he said.
The NUPW leader was reacting to recent comments made by the Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association Charles Herbert, who was also a member of the Fiscal Deficit Committee recently convened by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to advise him on the way forward for the floundering economy.
One of Herbert’s key suggestions to Stuart is that further austerity cannot be avoided as his Government seeks to dig itself outside of a worrying hole that in economic terms redounds to a deficit of six per cent of GDP.
The Stuart administration has also been struggling to build back up the island’s dwindling foreign reserves which plunged to $681.1 million, or 10.3 weeks of cover at the end of last year, with only a slight recovery achieved up to March this year.
At the same time, Government’s overall debt, which requires servicing to the tune of over $300 million annually, remains high at 105.4 per cent of GDP.
With this in mind, the NUPW agrees that urgent remedial action is needed.
However, it is adamant that the burden of austerity must be equally spread around.
“We also believe that we should be careful that any measures we take as a country to save the economy of Barbados do not cost us the society of Barbados,” McDowall stressed.
He further cautioned Government against adopting the “capitalist” approach to economic problem solving, which views labour as “an input expense”.
“This expense is always seen as one of the most and easily adjustable variables in economic downturn. That however, is not the view of the matter which the trade union movement has.
“Labour in our reality is mothers and fathers charged with providing shelter and clothing for future generations. Labour is mortgagees who have commitments to various financial institutions. Labour is the bedrock of demand and the crux of what keeps an economic system turning over,” the NUPW president explained.
While acknowledging that streamlining and rationalization could bring about needed savings and that spending cuts must be made, McDowall further warned Government against going down the road of profit making at the sacrifice of workers, saying it would only yield deleterious results.
“In other words, we create a toxic and cyclic conundrum which further engulfs our country,” he said.
While calling on Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler to stay true to policies that provide protection for people as a vital element of a functioning Barbadian society, the union reiterated its call for a pay increase for public servants, who have not been given a pay since 2008.
“We ask that research and reality guide the decisions to be made, and most of all, we call for open and continuous dialogue with all stakeholders,” McDowall said.