In legal argument, there’s usually the whole question of reasonable doubt, which, if established, in the absence of very compelling evidence, can ensure that a defendant walks free of a criminal charge.
Defence lawyers are therefore known to spend a great amount of their time poking holes in the prosecution’s argument, with a view to ensuring that such doubt is clearly recognizable.
Much trickier it would seem though is for anyone to apply, outside of a court of law, the test of reasonableness to Government’s pending job cuts.
This would explain why the General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), Toni Moore, was pilloried over the weekend with respect to her comments on the number of retrenchments that one should reasonably expect in the Government service at this stage, given the very precarious economic circumstances in which the country finds itself.
Whilst it has traditionally been the expressed view of many a popular trade union leader that ‘one job cut is one too many’, Moore would have taken the pragmatic position that the 1,000 job cuts currently being spoken of by the Mia Mottley-led administration in the first round of its planned public sector layoffs programme was ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances.
“If we were looking at a headcount exercise alone, a thousand as is being suggested would be a reasonable conclusion when one considers that within the last six to 12 months before the general election, there were a lot of people given positions in Government even though none were available,” Moore said on the sidelines of the BWU’s 77th Annual Delegates’ Conference held at Solidarity House, adding that the inevitable displacement was unfortunate as Government continues to roll out the phases of its economic recovery plan.
In reponse, Mark Adamson said: “I have never read so much ignorance attributed to a BWU General Secretary as this . . . . What profound ignorance!”
He also took issue with attempts by Moore to apportion the majority of the blame on the previous Democratic Labour Party (DLP) Government, saying “the truth is that it is the last BLP [Barbados Labour Party] Government – 1994 to 2008 – that expanded the size of the Government of Barbados beyond reasonable cause, by more than 10,000 employment positions – after the Government and the wider society had experienced serious structural and stabilization between 1991-1993.
“Moore must get real, it was not just the DLP Government that increased the employment numbers in Government,” he said.
Equally incensed was JR Smith who posted: “Job cuts are not reasonable don’t matter how small, people lose they spending power not good.”
Another poster, Carson Cadogan said: “This is another opportunity for who believe that Bajans of the caramel hue should always be at the bottom of the heap, [to] have a field day. And the sad part of it is that they will be ably assisted by the honorary whites in the Barbados Labour Party Govt and in the Barbados Workers’ Union and the NUPW [the National Union of Public Workers]”.
Another poster, under the caption ‘Truth Hurts’, said: “All I want to know is if the 1,000 workers that will be sent home are the ones who marched with you [Toni Moore], Akanni [McDowall of the NUPW] and Charles Herbert [of the Barbados Private Sector Association] last year. And if so, will you be willing to pay their bills after they are no longer employed?”
“If you listen to all the speeches on laying off workers I have noticed that all of them like they had the same hymn sheet to sing from. It’s me? Wonder? I see collusion at it’s best. Interesting,” added another poster, while Clarence Payne chimed in saying, “Like Diana Ross sang . . . ‘I am coming out’. This union is a joke and doesn’t deserve my money.”
In Mrs Moore’s defence, however, the 1,000 figure must be taken within the context of the recent suggestion made by former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Dr DeLisle Worrell that as many as 4,500 workers ought to go home, based on the $9 billion economic hole in which the Government currently finds itself.
But as one of the Prime Minister’s key advisors, Professor Avinash Persaud, rightly pointed out last week, such massive layoffs would only “break our society”.
“We cannot get to the road of success by breaking the society. That is a road to strife, it is not the road to success and so the Barbadian part of this Barbados Economic Recovery Transformation (BERT) is to share this burden evenly,” he said.
Which brings us back to the issue of what is reasonable?
It really comes down to where the effect of the measures is most felt.
As is often said, one man’s meat is another man’s poison. So while Government and its union cohorts may feel justified in cutting 1,000 jobs at this stage, it still comes down to a matter who feels it most.
Therefore, for the 1,000 Barbadians and their households who are to be immediately affected, BERT may never be deemed a reasonable solution, and understandably so.
Perhaps in hindsight, a better choice of word by Mrs Moore when talking in terms of pending job losses would have been “unavoidable” instead of reasonable, given the pain of adjustment to be felt by some of her very constituents.