The labour movement and the business community, which came together last month to organize a 20,000-strong protest in a bid to force Prime Minister Freundel Stuart to meet them on the economy, said they were anxiously awaiting tomorrow’s meeting of the Social Partnership.
Leaders of the both sides, normally adversaries but partners in the fight against Government’s austerity measures, sounded conciliatory when they spoke to Barbados TODAY ahead of the discussions, which Stuart has said will be broadcast live on national television.
However, they held firm to the positions they have articulated on the troublesome National Social Responsibility Levy, the two per cent tax on foreign exchange transactions and a rise in the excise duty on petrol announced by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30 Budget, and which began taking effect on July 1.
They insist there must be a better way for the economy, even though President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Eddy Abed does not expect an immediate resolution.
“We in the Chamber believe that tomorrow’s meeting will sort of set the backdrop or the framework as to what we view to be some of the vexing issues, and I say ‘we’ meaning by extension the Chamber and the private sector. I know the unions will equally do that,” a confident Abed said, adding that he expected Government to give a much clearer picture of both its revenue and expense situation in the hope that alternatives would be recommended.
“You need to balance the Budget and that is going to be an area that perhaps we will spend the most time on . . . . I fully expect that with the glare of television cameras tomorrow there may be some sense of professionalism, and considering that the audience is more than those in the room, individuals may want to take the opportunity to speak to the wider Barbados,” the BCCI head added.
He said the business community was “very anxious and most importantly we are optimistic” about the talks, and “if no results come tomorrow, absolutely everyone will have the opportunity to air their concerns and work towards the results in the next coming weeks – and I do say weeks versus months”.
Diplomacy aside, Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Charles Herbert said his organization would continue to press for dialogue on a medium term fiscal strategy for the country.
“We are hoping that on Friday we will discuss the process for that dialogue. We don’t believe that dialogue can take place in one day, but we believe that we can determine the process; how the public will be allowed to participate in the process; who will be involved.
“These are the issues that we are focusing on and hoping for. I think it is the same thing we’ve been asking for for months and this is our opportunity to discuss with the other Social Partners how that process can work,” he told Barbados TODAY, while continuing to express concern over Stuart’s decision to broadcast the talks.
The Prime Minister took the decision in the face of charges and counter charges among the Social Partners about what really transpired at a meeting with the private sector at the Ministry of Finance on June 2, and at Stuart’s get-together with the unions two days later.
Herbert said they were left with little to no choice but to accept that the meeting will be held in full view of the public.
“We are not sure that that creates the most conducive environment for the discussions that we’re hoping to have but the Government is insisting that it be televised and we are not in a position to object.
“[But] we are not afraid of anything that we will say in public so we are not making a big issue of it, but we are not convinced that it is the most constructive way to hold these discussions.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by President of the National Union of Public Workers Akanni McDowall, who also told Barbados TODAY he was all set for tomorrow’s meeting.
“We will defend our position anywhere in any forum. Personally, speaking from my perspective now, I have never really participated where it was televised to the general public so this will be a first time for me. But my position is simply going to the meeting and making sure that I defend the position of the public servants to the best of my ability,” McDowall said, adding that the labour movement would be pleased when the unions “are able to receive the result that we want.
“We just don’t want dialogue for dialogue sake. We want the meeting to be as meaningful as possible so I am more concentrating on the result. We would have been asking for a removal or reduction of the NSRL and we’ve been also asking for a coping subsidy until such time as salary negotiations have been completed. Those are the issues of concern, which we would have indicated in our letter of the 5th and of the 11th July to the Prime Minister so those matters will be discussed on Friday.
“Hopefully we will be able to get the outcome that we expect . . . . If everything happens like how we expect, then I foresee that we will be able to address the issues of concern to us. If that does not, then of course, there will be a problem, at least from the union’s side, because we are mostly concerned with resolving the issues which we would have brought almost 30,000 [demonstrators] on the road for,” McDowall stressed.