The state agency responsible for marketing the island as a tourist destination is pleading for its own form of relief from the trade unions, which have begun industrial action in a bid to force the Freundel Stuart administration to offer workers an ease from the taxing National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
The Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI) is urging 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) to tread carefully, otherwise they could “cut the branch on which you are standing”.
The NUPW, with support from the sister unions, has ordered its members on a sick-out, as the labour movement increases pressure on Stuart to reduce the NSRL by 50 per cent, or offer the workers some form of subsidy to help them cope with the austerity Budget approved last month.
Unionized workers at the Bridgetown Port, Customs and the Transport Board have been calling in sick, disrupting the normal flow of business.
And with no one quite sure what the unions plan next, tourism industry officials appeared somewhat nervous over the prospects of an all out strike just as Crop Over approaches its climax, to be followed by the staging of the Caribbean Festival of Arts in mid-August.
“Everyone in this country agrees that tourism is what’s fuelling our success right now and my simple message would be, never cut the branch on which you are standing. And if tourism is what is driving our economy and it is what is keeping us as a people doing reasonably well, we should do nothing to interrupt the tourism industry,” BTMI Chairman Alvin Jemmott told journalists.
“Anytime that there is any type of disruption to the natural tourism business flow, it is concerning for us in the tourism industry. But again, I would ask and urge people to understand what’s really feeding them. Never take food off your own table,” Jemmott warned.
Other tourism officials, including Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy declined to comment on the development, but said they would continue to monitor the situation.