A retired trade union leader is describing the “marriage” between the labour movement and the private sector as an unholy alliance.
The well-respected veteran trade unionist, who preferred to remain anonymous, contended that businesses were now merely seeking comfort within the trade union movement.
He charged that unlike the 1991 economic crisis when public officers bore the brunt of the then Erskine Sandiford (now Sir Lloyd) administration’s fiscal policies resulting in 5,000 being sent home, Government’s recent austerity measures had left no sector untouched.
“It isn’t just public servants; it is private sector people and private sector businesses that get hit. So them fellows look for comfort within the unions. I’m at a loss as to the marriage, because in ‘91 they didn’t want no marriage. But now in 2017, they want a marriage,” the former union leader told Barbados TODAY.
He emphasized that it was no longer a “one-sided public officer” who had to shoulder the recent increase in taxes, particularly the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) which jumped from two per cent to ten per cent.
“It is all uh we in the pot,” he added.
Late last month, the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) joined forces with the island’s four major unions in staging a 20,000-strong march in a bid to force the Freundel Stuart administration to the negotiating table to discuss the way forward for the economy, including a reduction of the NSRL.
Stuart has since agreed to meet with the Social Partnership comprising the unions, private sector and Government on August 11 to discuss the vexed levy and other fiscal challenges.
This afternoon General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Roslyn Smith said she was looking forward to the meeting.
“I’m more concentrating on dealing with some matters that I have and at the same time just preparing myself for the meeting on August 11. So there isn’t anything to shout about at this point in time,” she said.
Asked to respond to the retired union leader, Smith skirted the issue.
“I don’t have anything to say. There are all kinds of things out there floating . . . . To be honest, I am staying away from all negative comments,” the general secretary insisted.
Meanwhile, the former union boss is warning Government not to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for assistance in tackling the current massive fiscal deficit.
“ If our own home-grown thing is not put in place, what are you going to do? You going to the IMF? If you go to the IMF, thousands of public servants are going to get laid off. Since 1982 during the Tom Adams regime they [IMF] were saying the public service too large. And successive Prime Ministers or Ministers of Finance resisted it, until 1991 when Sandiford bring it down to 21,000,” he said.
“It was because of the policies of the private sector that you had to employ people, so therefore you find yourself duplicating departments, ministries . . . I said to people, I had no difficulty with what happened, because if I was a politician and I realized nothing was happening for my people, I would have to do that to keep them off the street,” he noted.
He told Barbados TODAY the trade unions did not seem to be reading the current situation correctly.
“That is the agony of the whole situation. If you back off . . . and it seem as though the trade unions not reading it because they never went through structural adjustment . . . . They do not know the pain of structural adjustment for civil servants. Back in 1982-83 and back in 1991 . . . look at nearly all of them. They don’t know anything about those pains.”
The former union boss added that if all Barbadians did not share in the tax pain and economic sacrifices, the public workers would have to do so alone.
He therefore recommended a number of solutions.
“Up productivity, reduce transfers and subsidies to state enterprises, keep out the IMF, work on implementing mergers of some statutory bodies in such a way that workers are not hurt and paying more serious attention to agricultural production for exports,” he said.