Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has been accused of missing a crucial opportunity to bring an end to the current row with the island’s four major trade unions and the private sector.
“The Prime Minister could have used this and diffused this matter yesterday evening and we wouldn’t have any more impasse in Barbados now,” Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) Member of Parliament Kerrie Symmonds said in reference to debate in Parliament Tuesday on an Opposition motion moved by the BLP St James Central representative to discuss the issues that led to Monday’s protest by an estimated 20,000 Barbadians.
The march was led by the top four trade unions and the private sector, in a bid to force the Prime Minister to meet urgently with the Social Partners on a way out of the troubling National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
“There would be no more difficulties. The unions wouldn’t have to be considering their next move. We would not have to worry about a possible shutdown of Barbados in the middle of the most important festival that the country has [Crop Over].
“We would not have to worry about regional and international embarrassment from CARIFESTA [Caribbean Festival of Arts]. We wouldn’t have to be worrying about those things. This country is being put on the boil, being put through turmoil because of lawlessness and indifference and arrogance in high places,” Symmonds said.
During Tuesday’s House sitting, Stuart said he would likely give the Social Partners the meeting they had been demanding, not behind closed doors, but in the full glare of the public on live television.
Although he also hinted 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, it was not clear if the meeting will be held any earlier.
Symmonds Wednesday tore into the Prime Minister over those decisions, telling party faithful attending the BLP’s weekly lunchtime lecture series at its Roebuck Street, The City headquarters Stuart could not possibly be serious about the open talks.
“How could you expect that serious, sensitive negotiations, where people are deeply entrenched, and are at loggerheads, and you have now to persuade one another in a process of give and take, in a process of mutual give and take in the hope of finding compromise; that you are going to do this in the full glare of a CBC TV camera?
“Prime Minister, would you hold Cabinet on TV? Why then would you expect that these negotiations, sensitive and serious as they are, involving the nature of give and take which will inevitably have flare ups; because he has provoked the private sector and the unions, why would you want to do that on television?”
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’s 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 with them to discuss a way forward for the economy, away from the crippling NSRL and other taxes imposed on Barbadians.
Symmonds Wednesday afternoon said this one instance could set a precedent where “from now on every time that there is an engagement between union and some other entity, you going call in the television and watch it happen”.
The Opposition legislator, who sits on the Public Accounts Committee, suggested the Prime Minster should consider televising the activities of that body instead.
“When we are highlighting the fact that $24 million could pass and go to the National Housing Corporation without Parliament even being told about it, that should be on television. When we expose the fact that millions and millions of dollars were squandered up at the Grotto and squandered at Valerie that should be on television. Those are the things that should be on television.
“If he has nothing better to do with CBC, let the Public Account Committee business be there and let the public know and see that the members of the Democratic Labour Party refuses to come and participate in the business of the PAC,” Symmonds said as he made the accusation that the body had met between 30 and 40 times in the last few years and that there was little cooperation or attendance by members on the Government side.
“Those are the things that should be on TV – the fact that the Government of Barbados has members who are part of the Public Accounts Committee, but heap scorn on the process of that constitutional office. Just as when they were in opposition, they did not seek to convene meetings of the PAC because they came to public life to loiter,” he quipped.