Members of the Freundel Stuart administration are not at all amused by Monday’s protest action by members of the public and private sectors.
In fact, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite has termed it as nothing short of “madness” while Minister of Education Ronald Jones has labelled it a not so veiled attempt by supporters of the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) to overthrow the Government, which has been desperately seeking to avoid sending home thousands of workers amid worsening economic challenges.
“So you have a situation where you have as much dialogue as possible . . . [and] all throughout Barbados you are hearing that we have a revenue problem, we need to cut our expenses . . . . [And] so you have taken a decision, because you don’t want to send home workers from the Transport Board, [but] you know they gone and strike for us taking a decision to keep them employed. You don’t want to send home people from NHC, but you know they gone and strike for us keeping them employed,” said Brathwaite, while asking: ‘What kind of madness is going on in this country?”
During a Facts meeting convened by the ruling Democratic Labour Party in St Michael East Sunday night in support of its new candidate Nicholas Alleyne, the Attorney General also refuted suggestions made by both the unions and the private sector that Government had been reluctant to hold discussions with them in light of the $542 million austerity package announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler on May 30 with a view to addressing a $537 million deficit.
The most contentious measure announced in the package was a 400 per cent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy, which moved from two per cent to ten per cent on July 1 and has been met with demands from both the public sector trade unions and the private sector for either immediate rollback or a coping subsidy for workers.
But with Government so far refusing to budge on those demands, the situation descended into protests led by the trade unions, with Brathwaite suggesting Sunday night that the action was totally unnecessary.
While stopping just short of calling the union leaders “idiots”, he stressed: “Only madmen would take the kind of decisions that have been taken over the last couple of weeks.
“Your first order is protection of the most vulnerable, protection of the workers. We say to you that these are the alternatives – we either raise some additional revenue as we are doing, or we cut the expenditure, which means send home your workers and you say, ‘Let’s go marching, Let’s agree with the same private sector organizations whose only remedy to us has been to cut expenditure . . . [and] you need to send home workers’ . . . and imagine now the workers representatives are planning to walk behind them [the private sector] because you can’t lead these fellas, you have to walk behind them,” said Brathwaite, in expressing his extreme disappointment over the decision by the unions and the private sector to hold a joint march.
“I am very, very disappointed. You know sometimes I ask if we are getting good value for money in terms of education because some of our people who are allegedly in leadership positions, don’t seem to be able to think through things carefully anymore and don’t understand when they are being led.
‘So the leader of the Opposition and her gang are sitting down quietly behind the scenes, but this is all part of the plan,” he added.
Minister of Education Ronald Jones was equally caustic, while suggesting that there was an Opposition-led plot to overthrow the current Government.
He made it clear that he was not opposed to workers marching for legitimate reasons as was their democratic right, but strongly condemned what he said was a “hatch up set of situations” and a “pull together, hodgepodge, wickedness” with “disrespectful undertones and overtones” based on a “desire to manipulate persons who don’t think correctly. “The motivation behind all of this is to bring down this Government,” he told the gathering of DLP supporters.
“They rushed to say after the WhatsApps [message] and other little things start to leak out, ‘that’s not true’.
“[But] let us move, they said, for a vote of no confidence in the Government of Barbados and when you look at all of them and their names, and their associations, you know to whom they are associated – he, sorry, she who cannot wait,” Jones stressed.
His comments came on the heels of a stern warning issued by the Prime Minister Sunday that his Government would not be blackmailed into rescinding its package of tax measures, in particular the National Social Responsibility Levy which the unions and the private sector have deemed repressive.
Addressing a party luncheon on Sunday, Stuart had also denied ever refusing to hold dialogue on the issue with members of the country’s Social Partnership.
In support of Stuart’s position, Minister of Health John Boyce told Sunday night’s meeting that Government was not at all opposed to dialogue with the unions or the private sector.
In fact, he expressed confidence that under Stuart’s leadership, “good sense will prevail and that this matter will be brought under proper control in very short order.
“I know that he has never not indicated his willingness to dialogue with all of the parties concerned and this is exactly what we need to have, but what we do not, or what we should not be looking to have is persons giving deadlines in situations where deadlines are not appropriate or where there is an absence of any level of consideration for the persons to whom we seek to engage,” Boyce said.
“I think that we always have to keep our thinking caps on so to speak and I pray too that all sectors concerned will recognize and respect each other in a way that can bring about urgent dialogue on these matters,” he added.