Employers and the labour movement are discussing an unusual marriage that could result in support from the private sector for any decision by the unions to shut down the country over the increasingly vexing National Social Responsibility Levy.
Both sides have expressed dissatisfaction with the burdensome tax, which increased from two per cent to ten per cent effective July 1, and they are looking to force the Freundel Stuart administration’s hands on the matter.
The Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) and union leaders met yesterday to discuss the austerity measures announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in the May 30 Financial Statement and Budgetary Proposals, after which BPSA Chairman Charles Herbert said both sides were unhappy with the absence of dialogue between Government and its Social Partners “over our financial problem and the Budget”.
Herbert disclosed little about the meeting, but said the umbrella agency of private sector organizations would meet with its membership today and tomorrow to finalize its position.
While describing the talks as “a very good meeting”, Herbert also said the grouping was “very concerned about what the unions might do”.
Still, when pressed on whether the business community would join the labour movement in a national shutdown, the BPSA boss told Barbados TODAY there would be no support unless they reached a common position, “but if we do have a common position we might”.
“We really can’t say much at this stage. All we can say at this stage is that we are talking with each other and we are exploring the common positions. After that you have to interpret what will happen if we have common positions,” he said.
Herbert added that the business community was also not pleased that Stuart had rejected the recommendations put forward by his own foreign exchange and fiscal deficit working groups of the Social Partnership earlier this year, without giving an explanation.
“We feel that dialogue is what is missing in that we don’t know why they rejected them and we were not given an opportunity to defend our feelings. We certainly have not bought into the NSRL and they have not made any effort to sell us on it, except to say that there is no other alternative, and of course we had given them alternatives, which we don’t know why they have [been] rejected,” Herbert said.
When contacted President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Eddy Abed and outgoing Executive Director of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation Tony Walcott refused to comment on the matter, stating the BPSA was leading the charge.
Following a march on Tuesday from Queen’s Park to Independence Square, after which they failed in their attempt to hand-deliver a letter to Stuart, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) gave the Prime Minister 48 hours to respond positively to their demands to reduce the NSRL by 50 per cent, or provide workers with a coping subsidy.
Failing this, the unions threatened to “up de ting”, generally interpreted to mean a national shutdown.
The ultimatum expired today and up until the time of publication, there had been no signs of movement by Government or word on the next steps by the unions.