Quite apart from his usual obstinence to making national addresses, there was a deafening silence this past week from our Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as one matter under his direct control came to a bitter head.
We refer here to the seven-day strike by workers at the state-run Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) over the payment of increments.
Throughout the week-long impasse, Mr Stuart, as minister responsible for broadcasting, was portrayed by the Corporation’s management as the only one who could settle its simmering dispute with the Barbados Workers’ Union, which at one point seemed destined to escalate into a full blown national protest.
But alas, it would seem as though the invisible hand that eventually gave in to the demands of the unionized CBC workers, and halted the immediate threat of escalated protest action in the Pine, must have been Mr Stuart’s.
For, as it was repeatedly made clear by CBC for the full duration of the one week strike, the minister, and the minister alone, could approve payment of the four outstanding increments to workers at the Corporation who were already at the top of their pay scales.
The way the CBC put it in its official communication to the workers was that any payments outside of their current salary scales would be “tantamount to salary increases” and “not in accordance with Section 20 (c) of the CBC Act which states that “no salary in excess of such sum as the Minister may determine and notify in writing to the Corporation, shall be assigned to any post without the prior approval of the Minister”.
Therefore, we believe it reasonable for us to deduce that Mr Stuart, who has been out of the country on official business, must have at the very least given the official go ahead by remote, to one or more of his emissaries.
Which brings us to the Barbados Water Authority (BWA) and its seemingly identical dispute with Government over pay. From a purely legal perspective it would seem as though Mr Stuart has now set an inescapable precedent.
But while CBC and BWA workers may be smiling all the way to the bank, we can’t help but be reminded of the numerous warnings, not least of all from the Acting Central Bank Governor Cleviston Haynes that pay rises are unaffordable at this time, no matter how hard Toni Moore or Akanni McDowall might be shouting.
Furthermore, the elephant in the room is still our stuttering economy and, in particular, what the Stuart administration intends to do about that dastardly tax known as the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).
In keeping with the solemn promise made by the Prime Minister at the last national consultation with the unions and the private sector back in August, by now we would have expected to hear something a bit more definitive from Government in terms of whether the controversial tax stays or goes, or if any form of relief will be granted in terms of this most onerous levy.
However, all we have been treated to so far as the much-maligned tax is concerned is a most unwelcome and inopportune boast by none other than our embattled Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler that the NSRL raked in over $50 million.
Does this make up for the fact that the people are seriously hurting. We think not!
For as the goodly president of the chamber of commerce Mr Eddy Abed would have warned this week: “Although the minister, by adding the NSRL assured that public servants won’t be going home, he has shifted that responsibility to the private sector.
“We are seeing many of our members in the process of about to send home staff and closing branches and downsizing. This wasn’t intended, [but] we can’t employ people with a tax so burdensome.
“From the chamber’s point of view, many of our members have also informed us that they have seen a tremendous fall-off in business. Those selling cars have said that July, August and September were the worst months for them. Sales were down 50 per cent and this has made the cost of living much higher,” the businessman said.
Based on our reading of developments on the ground, we concur wholeheartedly with Mr Abed’s assessment.
It is only for our Government and to a large extent our trade unions to come to terms with our present reality, and actually work together instead of at cross purposes, on a plan for getting us out of this deep rut we are in.
Maybe, the same invisible hand that stepped in at CBC could be again be pressed into national service.