Prime Minister Freundel Stuart will likely give the Social Partners the meeting they have been demanding, but not behind closed doors, it emerged Tuesday.
Speaking in the House of Assembly on an Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) motion to discuss the issues that led to Monday’s protest by an estimated 20,000 Barbadians, Stuart hinted that he might be willing to grant the wishes of the private sector and the trade unions for talks before the scheduled August 18 meeting of the Social Partnership.
However, he made it clear that whenever they meet it will be in the full glare of the Barbadian public.
“Whenever that meeting is held it is not going to be held in secret. It is going to be a nationally televised meeting where Barbadians can hear what the Government is about, what the Social Partners are about, both the labour movement and the private sector,” the Prime Minister said.
“It is going to take place in the full glare of the public . . . .I will communicate to the head of the Private Sector Association and the other Social Partners when the meeting will take place.”
The decision to make the meeting public came in the face of charges and counter charges among the partners about what really transpired at a meeting with the private sector at the Ministry of Finance on June 21 and Stuart’s get-together with the unions two days later.
During a presentation on Sunday at a Democratic Labour Party Christ Church West branch luncheon, Stuart suggested that a deal had been struck with the unions in relation to a pay rise.
However, this was vehemently denied by the union leaders at the end of Monday’s march organized by the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers, the Barbados Workers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers, in collaboration with the Barbados Private Sector Association,
They contended that the protest was to force Stuart to meet them to discuss a way forward for the economy, away from the crippling National Social Responsibility Levy and other taxes imposed on Barbadians.
These allegations spilled over into the over two-hour debate in the House Tuesday afternoon as Government and Opposition members took shots at each other.
Tabled by Member of Parliament for St James Central Kerrie Symmonds, the motion stated that unions and the private sector marched Monday because of “the tardy response of the Prime Minister to their entreaties for further urgent consultations to discuss the debilitating and oppressive effects of the fiscal and economic policies of the Government”, and put forward a resolution, “that this House calls upon the Prime Minister and the Government to convene a meeting of the Social Partnership without further delay to address the legitimate concerns of the two members of the Social Partnership, other Social Partners and the people of Barbados generally”.
In calling for Government to meet the partners urgently, Symmonds said: “You cannot have 30,000 people on the street marching in protest and it be treated to, as though it did not happen.”
The Speaker opted not to put the resolution to a vote at conclusion of the debate.
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley said the issues, especially the expected price increases for goods and services stemming from the steep climb in the NSRL had so urgent a bearing on Barbadians that the Social Partnership meeting should happen almost immediately.
“With one simple instruction the Prime Minister can convene a Social Partnership meeting tomorrow.
“Do not wait until the 18th of August. This matter is urgent because it requires urgent dialogue. This matter is of public importance because it affects the industrial stability and the economic viability of enterprises and the overall macroeconomic stability of the country,” Mottley said, adding that the BLP was “ready to come to that meeting in the interest of this country”.