Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has denied all claims that his Government is indifferent to the demands of public officers for pay increases or that he did not respond to the request for a tripartite meeting before tomorrow’s planned march by private sector and trade union members.
Speaking today at a luncheon of the Democratic Labour Party’s Christ Church West branch, held at Almond Bay Hotel, the Prime Minister made it clear that he would not allow the trade unions to dictate the Government’s fiscal policies.
Ahead of tomorrow’s planned march by the unions involving private sector workers, Stuart however said he would do nothing to stop the march from going ahead, but warned that tomorrow’s march, organized by the island’s four main trade unions and the Barbados Private Sector Association, would not force his Government to revise the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
He made it clear that Government would only review the tax if it fails to meet expectations.
“I heard that there was going to be this big march tomorrow which private sector employers are paying their workers to participate in . . . . Well you know, a few people got on to me, begging me to meet quickly to head it off. I do not want to head it off, I want it to happen. The people of Barbados have to see what is possible around here, and how far people will go in the pursuit of their perverse objectives,” the Prime Minister said to applause from some in those gathered.
He however said that, as far as he was concerned, there was currently no real industrial dispute in Barbados to speak of, while making it clear that no government in the world could be run on the basis of “undisguised blackmail”.
“Barbados is run by a constitution and that constitution establishes something called the rule of law. I want to make it very clear here this evening that there is no industrial dispute going on here in Barbados – not one. The only ‘dispute’ when I checked with the Ministry of Labour on Friday, that is engaging their attention, is a breakdown in salary negotiations between the Barbados Workers’ Union and the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation and that matter has been referred to the Chief Labour Officer and if it breaks down there, it will be referred to the Ministry of Labour and if it breaks down there and the minister feels so inclined, she will refer it to the Prime Minister.
“Apart from that there is no industrial dispute going on in Barbados between employers and employees, ” said Stuart, who had earlier said that Government was committed to paying a wage increase to public officers once it raised the required revenues.
In this context, he maintained that “it is not true that there has been no dialogue, it is not true that the Government is indifferent to the demands of public officers for increases.”
However, he said it was true that “the Prime Minister of Barbados was told to meet or to schedule a meeting in order to avert social unrest which is a coded way of saying if you don’t meet there will be social unrest”.
But Stuart said that even though he held the portfolio for National Security and Defence, he could not deal directly with any social unrest.
“The phrase social unrest can only mean one thing, creating a situation where the society is thrown into chaos. I have said it is a matter for the Royal Barbados Police Force . . . if we get to that stage,” he said.
Stuart added that he would be a traitor to let unelected officials determine how Government runs the country.
“I would be a traitor to those who fought for universal adult suffrage,” Stuart said of “elements that have not faced the electorate but who want final decisions on Barbados’ policies and Barbados’ future to reside with them and them alone”.