One popular local retail store is reporting that it has been business as usual so far for the company, following the July 1 hike of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) from two per cent to ten per cent.
Trisha Tannis, the managing director of Unicomer Barbados Limited, formerly known as Courts Barbados, reported Thursday that there has been no noticeable fallout from the contentious tax, which triggered a massive demonstration by private and public sector workers through the streets of the capital Bridgetown on Monday.
The action was led by the Barbados Private Sector Association and the island’s four major trade unions – namely the Barbados Workers’ Union, the National Union of Public Workers, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union with a view to getting the Freundel Stuart administration to return to the bargaining table with them to discuss possible relief.
While staying clear of questions about whether any of her employees took part in Monday’s demonstration that was supported by over 20,000 people, Tannis said Unicomer was so far holding its prices constant in the face of the NSRL hike and other austerity measures announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30 Budget.
However, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the presentation of over $100, 000 in prizes to 22 lucky winners of Unicomer’s Dream Cruise and brochure promotion, the managing director did not rule out the possibility of future price increases.
“Some prices may not actually move at all because we are actually maintaining our commitment to our customers to keep our prices as affordable as possible,” Tannis said.
“Our customers have continued to shop with us even after the imposition of the taxes and we can really see no noticeable difference really in traffic,” she added.
Earlier this week, Minister of Health John Boyce raised concern in Parliament that retail stores and supermarkets were ripping off Barbadians by setting unreasonably high markups using formulas that were unclear to the authorities.
Boyce, who was at the time speaking on an Opposition-sponsored motion on the turbulence surrounding the NSRL, had also demanded that small and large retail stores and supermarkets show how they determine their markups “because they are now making lots of money on the backs of Barbadians”.
Tannis, without making any direct reference to Boyce’s concerns, acknowledged that “there have been a lot of rumours about price gouging, with retailers using the opportunity of the new taxes to try to exact a bit more from the market”.
However, she assured that “Unicomer did not support that position at all”.
In fact, she suggested that any prices would be dependent on the cost of items coming into the country and that the situation would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
“At the moment, the market has been very appreciative of our stance, which is keeping our prices as low as possible, which is essentially what Courts is known for in any event, that will not change,” she said.
Amid reports of internal restructuring, she however acknowledged that “certain structural adjustments” were being looked at in a bid to contain its overall spending, but warned that it was not “ a simple question of passing on the prices.
“In some cases that may have to be done. In some cases it may have to be done partially, in some cases, it may not be done at all,” she added.
As part of Thursday’s presentation, 22 prizes were handed out ranging from grocery vouchers to the grand prize of an all-expenses paid Dream Cruise to the Mediterranean for a family of four.
This was won by Harriet Davis who was speechless when her name was announced. The second-place winner Judy Lewis collected a Samsung 65-inch Curved Smart TV.