A week after hinting that it could support a national shutdown by the unions as they sought to force Government back to the negotiation table, the umbrella agency of private sector organizations here is today singing a different tune.
Far from cheering an ongoing sick-out and work-to-rule, the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) has urged the labour unions to end the industrial action, arguing it is hurting business.
The island’s four major public sector unions – the National Union of Public Workers, the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union – have embarked on protest action in a bid to force Government to either lower its contentious National Social Responsibility Levy from ten per cent to five per cent, or grant public servants a coping subsidy.
With both the airport and the seaport affected, Transport Board drivers joined the protest today, stranding hundreds of commuters, some of whom were unable to get to work.
After emerging from a one-and-a-half-hour standing room only meeting with members Thursday afternoon at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, BPSA Chairman Charles Herbert said the unions’ action was hurting the private sector, although he did not say to what extent.
“One of our main interests is to minimize the impact on business by the industrial action and we certainly will be using whatever communication we have with labour to try and get them to reduce the impact, to cease industrial action. We understand their frustration, therefore if we have dialogue [with the union] their concerns may be part of that dialogue, but we certainly would like to see the industrial action come to an end as quickly as possible,” he said.
“We have spoken to labour and we have confirmed there is absolutely no dispute between the labour movement and the private sector. What we are seeing going on is between the labour movement and the Government. It does not involve the private sector. To some extent we are caught up in it and we are affected by it, but there is no dispute between labour and the private sector,” he reiterated.
Coming out of Thursday’s consultation with business leaders was a consensus on what BPSA members supported and what they opposed, Herbert said, explaining that they felt strongly that the Freundel Stuart administration must dump its current austerity measures and come up with a new medium-term fiscal strategy.
However, he insisted that the basis for any discussion about a growth strategy should be the recommendations presented by the Fiscal Deficit Committee earlier this year, which were rejected by Stuart.
“Those recommendations have the broad support of our associations and all of the individual members who came here.
“I think there is also a very clear message of support that we are all concerned and do not support the budgetary measures which are in force. We feel that it will have the wrong effect and that they are going to be disastrous for the country and they are not going to achieve the aims they were set out to achieve,” the BPSA head said.
He said the association intended to intensify its consultation with members, stressing there was keen interest in a meeting of the Social Partnership.
Stuart has already agreed in principle to such a meeting, although he has yet to set a date, much to the disappointment of both the business community and labour leaders.
In the absence of a confirmation, Herbert said the BPSA would begin its own talks, “[with] whoever is willing to come to the table and with whoever will come to the table”.
Supporting the BPSA’s call for dialogue through the Social Partnership, President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Eddy Abed said it was necessary to explore alternatives to the austere Budget, which “gives us the pain”.
“We need to be able to say there are ills in this country and we are prepared collectively to work on them, but we have to see that there is a way forward, but this Budget does not give us growth, it gives us the pain. Sadly I don’t think that we will achieve what we are looking for at the end of the financial year,” Abed said.
Meantime, Herbert dismissed a message circulating on WhatsApp stating that the business community intended to discuss a no confidence motion against Government at Thursday’s meeting, stating the private sector had no such interest and “no such motion came to this meeting”.