Public workers will not bear the brunt of the pain caused by major spending cuts under the Government’s restructuring programme, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relationships, Colin Jordan has assured.
The labour minister sought to draw a distinction between the four-month-old administration and previous Governments in the approach taken when faced with severe economic challenges.
As he opened the 12th Biennial Delegates’ Conference for the Congress of Trade and Staff Associations of Barbados (CTUSAB), Jordan acknowledged that public workers had good grounds for concern given the fact that they were the sacrificial lambs of previous periods of austerity.
But he maintained that even though there is going to be displacement under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) restructuring programme, the Mia Mottley administration was not prepared to simply go after low-hanging fruit.
“There is no escaping that the last few years have been difficult for Barbados as the island’s economic and financial fortunes have taken a severe blow. We have lost a decade and workers have not escaped unscathed from the misfortunes that the island has experienced. As a matter of fact, workers in the public sector have been on the frontline in bearing most of the burden with increased taxes and no salary increases,” said Jordan.
The Minister further pointed out that in “the 1991 to 1993 period, workers in the public sector also bore the brunt of the effort to revive the economy”.
But although the Barbadian economy is in dire circumstances similar to previous economic downturns, requiring major sacrifices to bring it back from the brink of collapse, Governments will ensure that the burden is distributed across all sectors, Jordan said.
“Every Barbadian knows that there are going to be some tough times ahead in the next two to three years and there may be some displacement as we adjust our economy, but our decision to ask the hotel sub-sector, the shared (accommodation) economy, businesses, creditors, persons at the higher end of the pay scales and visitors to share some of the burden is an indication to you that workers in the public sector will not be the only ones to carry the weight,” he said.
The magnitude of the economic recovery task was so great that it will require all hands on deck, the labour minister declared.
“This is a point in time that requires us working in solidarity with a disciplined focus on effecting the viable solutions contained in the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation plan. It is at this juncture in our history that Barbados requires our best collective will and efforts to succeed,” Jordan said.
The Minister of Labour’s statement appeared to reinforce the positions of Prime Minister Mottley’s key economic advisors, who recently suggested that large cuts in the public sector could cause severe social displacement.
Last month, the advisers offered a firm assurance to Barbadians that Government’s planned public sector layoffs will not be in the order of 4,000 workers.
At the same time, a strong indication was given that if Government were to follow the advice of some 5,000 ordinary Barbadians as it embarks on the restructuring of state owned enterprises (SOEs), at least 1,000 workers will be laid off in the first instance.
Professor Avinash Persaud, who is one of the leading economist behind the Barbados Economic Recovery Transformation (BERT) plan, pointed out that “some have said that we should sack 4,000 workers. It is the team’s view that that may solve one problem but only by creating many others”.
This is in light of recent suggestions made by former Governor of the Central Bank Dr DeLisle Worrell that a total of 4,500 workers should be cut from the public service over a three-year period.
Without referring to Worrell by name, Persaud said such a move would “break our society”.