Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is cautioning that while he is prepared to grant public servants “a level of relief”, it will not be done to the detriment of the economy.
However, he said any increase at this time must be linked to productivity.
The island’s largest public sector trade union, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), has been pressing Government for a 23 per cent hike for its members, while the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) wants a 15 per cent rise.
Government had put a $49 million lump sum payment in the form of a coping subsidy on the table last month that was flatly rejected by the NUPW, which demanded an additional $11 million.
The NUPW had been joined by the BWU, as well as the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union, in requesting a subsidy to help public sector workers cope with the burdensome National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) and other measures imposed by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30, 2017 austerity Budget.
But on the first day of a two-day strike by the NUPW last week, BWU General Secretary Toni Moore made it clear her union was not interested in any “token” lump sum payment because it would “give workers instant gratification for a weekend and return them to the same position in the following week”.
In an address today to the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry January luncheon at the Hilton Barbados Resort, the Prime Minister broke his silence on the matter, saying Government’s intention had been to grant public sector workers relief based on the performance of the controversial NSRL.
However, he said several conditions had to be taken into consideration.
“In any analysis of fiscal sustainability, it must be recognized that salaries and wages represent the second largest public expenditure category in the approved budgetary allocations. It is imperative, therefore, that any wage agreements reached ensure that wage growth is in line with productivity levels in the public service, as well as with fiscal and monetary policy objectives, and do not have the effect of distorting and undermining the current macroeconomic fundamentals.
“In relation to the ongoing discussions between the Government and the public sector our hope is that some measure of relief could be provided to public servants from the gains to be derived from the recently implemented National Social Responsibility Levy was conditioned on what was actually achieved by the measure. Non- salary and salary alternatives are being explored to see what accommodation can be considered,” he assured.
The Prime Minister, in his usual calm demeanor, said while his administration was desirous of providing “a level of relief, let us be mindful that Barbados is not the only country in which public sector workers have experienced wage rigidity”.
Pointing to the United Kingdom as one such example, Stuart said while public sector workers in that country had experienced a wage freeze from 2010-2013, they had only received a “one per cent cap in pay rise increases between 2013 and 2017”.
Thousands of people had taken to the streets on central London in July in a march against the UK government’s public sector pay cap and austerity measures.
“We must remember that in Barbados, wages and working conditions in the public sector are comparatively higher than comparable average wages and working conditions in the private sector,” he added.
Following the lukewarm response by public servants to last week’s strike call by the NUPW, Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo said the workers had understood Government’s fiscal situation and reported for work as a result.
“I think a lot of people have been reading the situation well. At the end of the day Barbadians are intelligent people. The workers understand that anybody who could promise them at the end of the day that they would get a significant increase in salary is only pulling their legs for short-term gain. The workers understand this and they realize that this is not the time for industrial action,” Byer-Suckoo told Barbados TODAY on the sidelines of a political meeting last weekend.