Some of this island’s leading businesses, including one of the largest private sector groupings, are on board with Monday’s national march called by trade unions and the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA).
However, Chairman of Williams Industries Inc Ralph Bizzy Williams is making it clear that the action being taken by his company is not in support of any political party, but “just to impress on Government that we want to meet urgently to find a better way to close the fiscal deficit”.
While complaining that the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) was causing “bare confusion with our accounting systems”, the prominent businessman also charged that the recent increase in the NSRL from two per cent to ten per cent was equivalent to increasing the 17.5 per cent Value Added Tax to 27 per cent.
In support of Monday’s march by members of the BPSA and the labour unions, Williams told Barbados TODAY he would be closing all but three of his companies – Ionics Fresh Water Limited, which is a desalination plant; Sustainable Barbados Recycling Centre, which handles garbage disposal and Big Gases Limited, which supplies oxygen to the hospital – which he said could be considered “essential services that should not be disrupted”.
“We are not political. All we want is a system of taxation that is simple to apply and fair to everyone,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Late this evening, Barbados TODAY also received a copy of communication sent by Chief Executive Officer of Automotive Art Douglas Armstrong to members of staff advising that the company “fully endorses the initiatives of the BPSA” and would therefore be closing its to facilitate participation in the march.
“As a result, staff are advised that they will be relieved of their duties with full pay on the day of the march and are encouraged to join the protest march in uniform,” the message from the CEO said.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to make their respective voices heard, and send a message to Government that [it] must engage its Social Partners in order to develop a sustainable path forward for the country.
“For the love of your country, and the future of your country, come and make your voice heard,” Armstrong appealed, adding that regular business would resume on Tuesday, July 25.
Barbados TODAY also understands that similar communication was sent to workers at Caribbean Label Craft, which is a member of the Goddards Group, as well as to other private sector employees on Friday.
However, not everyone in the business community seems to be on board with Monday’s march.
This afternoon, Executive Director of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Carlos Wharton said in a statement to members that although the BCCI’s Council was in agreement that “dialogue with the other Social Partners is important, we do not believe that this march should have been the first course of action taken”.
However, Wharton said the BCCI Secretariat had been instructed to inform members of the march, which takes place from 10 a.m. until noon.
When contacted, BCCI President Eddy Abed declined further comment on the matter.
However, Abed has been insisting on the need for tripartite dialogue, and for Government to explore alternatives to its recently announced austerity Budget, which he said “gives us the pain”.
But fed up of waiting for Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to respond to their demands, General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union Toni Moore announced during a 1:30 p.m. press conference today at the headquarters of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) that the march, which is slated to begin in Queen’s Park, was a “united effort for all of us to show our commitment towards achieving what is best for Barbados.
“The trade unions of Barbados and the private sector have met and we have agreed on what we will like to term a joint action between ourselves, to have a number of concerns which we have in common addressed urgently.
“We’ve planned for a march on Monday where we will call on the wider public to demonstrate their support for the concerns which we have, namely that we should have dialogue and so on and all the things you’ve heard us calling for,” Moore said.
She was flanked by President of the National Union of Public Workers Akanni McDowall, BSTU President Mary Redman, executive member of the Barbados Union of Teachers Sean Spencer, BPSA President Charles Herbert and President of the Small Business Association Dean Straker at today’s press conference which followed a two-day public sector sick-out on Wednesday and Thursday.
Unionized workers have also been staging a work-to-rule in an attempt to force the Stuart administration to reduce the NSRL by 50 per cent after it was increased from two to ten per cent on July 1. Failing this, they have called on Government to accede to a coping subsidy, following its unveiling of a $542 million austerity Budget on May 30.
However, Herbert today stressed that Monday’s march was not intended to be disruptive.
“The idea is to minimize disruption and to maximize the visibility that the public has for our call [for tax relief]. There will be some disruption; the private sector will be asking its members where possible to close their businesses and to make their employees available to participate, should they wish to do so.”
The island’s main ports of entry and the state-run Transport Board were hardest-hit by action over the past two days, with arriving passengers were forced to wait for long hours in queues at Customs and Immigration. The Bridgetown Port has also been negatively affected by a go-slow with CEO David Jean-Marie telling Barbados TODAY yesterday that they were even contemplating shutting down operations altogether to prevent possible damage to its expensive equipment. Thursday’s sick-out also threatened to grind operations at the state-run Transport Board to a halt, as private public service operators were forced to step in and fill the void after the majority of the Board’s 100 buses were forced to stay off the road.
However, Herbert assured today that there would no further disruption caused at ports of entry.
He also assured that the state run Queen Elizabeth Hospital would remain operational on Monday and that local hotels would not be made to feel any ill effects from the scheduled march.
“We are trying to give a sense of priority to the fact that it is Kadooment and we don’t want to interrupt the tourists arrivals and tourist experience for Kadooment,” he said, while acknowledging that “nobody knows who is going to march until they show up to march [but] we are expecting full support and massive support”.