A leading businessman today swiftly rebuffed the lower parliamentary chamber’s call to match the Government’s five-per cent pay rise for workers.
The message from immediate past-president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) Eddy Abed: come back to us and talk about it – maybe around year-end and after the details are known of a future deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Minister of Transport and Works William Duguid urged the private sector to join the Government as the House of Assembly passed the Public Service General Order 2018 – a five per cent increase across the board for public workers, to be applied from the beginning of the financial year in April 1 to March 31, 2019.
Arguing that a pay rise would trigger an anticipated spike in business, Duguid said it was only fair that private enterprises pass on some of the proceeds to workers.
“I want to make this call to the private sector because we want the same wage increase given by the Government sector to be adopted by many companies and institutions in the private sector. I want to ask the private sector today from the floor of this House that if the Government has seen its way to increase the salaries of its workers by five per cent, I want the private sector of this country to look at lifting that wage freeze and increasing the wages of all the people in Barbados,” Duguid told the House.
But Abed told Barbados TODAY that the time was not right for a pay rise, even after a ten per cent sales tax – the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) imposed by the previous administration – had been abolished.
“It would take a minimum of three to four months and we are currently still in a situation where prices have not been completely corrected in terms of the removal of the NSRL. It won’t be until about Christmas that we will see the positives of the public sector increase and the removal of the NSRL coming to the fore. I am sure that the private sector will look at the situation as it progresses and later share profits with their employees. So I think we should have this conversation in three or four months,” he said.
Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey called on the private sector to be responsible corporate citizens and help the workers stretch their dollar even if an increase could not be given now.
“I implore them to be good corporate citizens and not to raise the prices of their goods and their services, only because we have given public servants a wage increase, so that the dollar the public servants now receive can go a little bit further,” he said.
But business leader Abed said it was unfair to expect both sectors to operate at the same pace given that Government and business determined wage increases differently.
“During the ten years that the public sector had no increase, the private sector did in fact pass on increases to employees where possible. So you are not comparing apples with apples in this instance. The private sector has always been driven by efficiency, productivity and profitability. It can’t be a blanket statement to call on private sector to give increases across the board.
“We are going through a recession and it has been a difficult seven to eight years,” Abed continued. “The private sector operates in a completely different dynamic and has been doing its parts to keeping their employees incentives, productive and loyal for the last ten years while the public sector enjoyed none of that.”
Many businesses are also wary about the future with Barbados said to be on the cusp of an IMF agreement, Abed argued.
“The future right now is a little bit unclear for a lot these businesses and until areas, such as a possible IMF programme, start to clarify themselves, it is difficult to make long-term or even medium-term decisions,” Abed said. (CM)