While expressing disappointment that Prime Minister Freundel Stuart did not seem willing to give in to demands for a meeting with the Social Partnership, business executives are hoping Monday’s march, which attracted an estimated 20,000 Barbadians, would cause Government to take note.
The private sector officials who took time from work Monday to join the march said they wanted to send Stuart a message that the Social Partnership – union, Government and private sector – should meet to chart a more palatable way forward for the economy.
The Barbados Workers’ Union, The Barbados Union of Teachers, the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers, in association with the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA), organized Monday’s march in an effort to force Government to the negotiation table to come up with alternatives to the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
Outgoing President of the Barbados International Business Association Gregory McConnie told Barbados TODAY the situation facing the country was pressing and he feared it could worsen if Stuart did not meet urgently with the Social Partners in search of a solution.
“We feel that there is a very urgent situation. We have a very poor credit rating, a very serious foreign exchange reserves issue that we need to get addressed very urgently. We think that we need to come up with a solution that has the benefit of the views of all the Social Partners and we need that to happen urgently because we are extremely concerned about foreign currency reserves,” McConnie said, adding he was disheartened that Stuart was not willing to revise the controversial NSRL despite the outcry.
“I was disappointed to hear that. I would have thought that with such a wide show of dissatisfaction with the status quo, that he would have a more conciliatory approach to the issue. At the end of the day we completely agree that Government is the one charged with setting policies and so on, but to the extent that you have other partners who can make a contribution, why not listen to them? Why not come up to a negotiated solution that can work for everyone?”
Co-founder of Automotive Art Dereck Foster told Barbados TODAY it was important that his company show support for Monday’s march, which began and ended at Queen’s Park.
He said the fact that Stuart did not seem willing to meet with the Social Partnership “is highlighting the problem we have”.
“It appears as though the Government is not willing to listen to the people who elected it and that they are quite happy to go about doing whatever they choose to do whenever they choose to do it,” Armstrong said.
“I don’t want people to believe this is about bringing down a government. This is about engaging the Government to find solutions to the problems we have. That is what I want . . . we want it to work and we want to engage with the Government to try and find solutions to our problems,” he said, adding that the NSRL was too onerous and would cause prices to skyrocket and people to lose jobs.
Businessman Andrew Bynoe, who closed both his Black Rock, St Michael and Six Roads, St Philip supermarkets until 1 p.m. Monday to allow staff to join the march, said a message had to be sent to Government “that it is high time that they sat down with members of the private sector association, members of the union and other stakeholders so that we can address the malaise that has crept into this economy over the last many years”.
He said the fact that the Prime Minister did not want to engage in an urgent meeting with the Social Partners was a demonstration of his “lack of interest and understanding with respect to the problems that the people of this country are going through.
Executive Director of the University of the West Indies Consulting team Lisa Cummins told Barbados TODAY the turnout for Monday’s march meant “something is wrong”.
“The fact that Barbadians are out on the street and being more and more vocal is a sense that something is wrong and that we have to talk with our people. Barbados is about all of us. It is not about a 30-member parliamentary group. It is not about a political party. It is about Barbados for Barbadians and I think that is why people are out here today. We are just not happy with what Barbados is now,” she explained.
Meanwhile, past president of the Barbados Private Sector Association Alex McDonald told Barbados TODAY while the tax measures were one of the main concerns for citizens, the turnout was an indication that residents were generally unhappy with the Barbados economy.
“Times are tough now and they are going to get tougher. We have to pull together and not be divided,” McDonald said.