The Government of Barbados is currently undertaking a retrenchment programme that is very much guided by the dictates of the International Monetary Fund, and in an economic situation where the Mia Mottley administration has very little choice. Hopefully, from this experience, valuable lessons will be learned by those displaced, by those still under the employ of the state and by the general Barbadian populace.
There has long been the fallacy that Government jobs are “safe” but twice within the past ten years this has proven to be a myth as both the Barbados Labour Party and Democratic Labour Party have sent scores of workers packing from their “safe jobs”. On each occasion, these retrenchments have reflected the vulnerability of the Barbados economy and its heavy dependence on foreign inputs. The development has also reflected a reluctance by both administrations to attempt serious restructuring in sectors that consume major foreign exchange. Restructuring as has consistently proven to be the case scarcely goes beyond making workers redundant. This is then followed by mass rehiring when the economy starts to show signs of resuscitation and we return to square one.
But perhaps coming out of the current exercise both Government and the general population can review several of the social circumstances that can be altered, improved upon, or simply discarded. Those working in Government ought to adopt a mindset that their longevity in their jobs depends on their performance and productivity. Despite the strides made in this country and the significant contributions of hardworking public servants as well as those in the private sector, no one can dispute that there has been a high level of employment indifference in the public service. If one can use the astronomically high levels of sick leave, lateness and absenteeism that have been constantly highlighted by creditable surveys and by internal indicators, then one cannot dispute that the belief Government jobs are forever, has often driven many workers to draw monthly salaries for which they have not worked conscientiously. It is a cultural thing that must change. One slacker in the workforce is one too many.
We also ought to look more closely at our educational system. It is perhaps a failing that we have not recognized that what helped to transform Barbados in its early post-colonial times cannot be the template to be slavishly adopted in 2018 and beyond. Our educational system largely creates employees. We eject young people from our secondary schools, colleges and university into the society to find jobs rather than they seeking to create jobs. There has been a welcome shift towards entrepreneurship within recent times but this is by no means to the extent that one would like to see. Despite the absence of empirical data, but with the evidence of our day to day observations and employment realities, entrepreneurship seems a second option for too many, or a recourse when “safe jobs” are lost. Perhaps, those responsible for driving the processes in our schools could address this.
Over the past three decades, or more, from Prime Ministers Barrow, Adams, St John and Sandiford, to Arthur, Thompson and Stuart, concerns about our high import bill, especially as it relates to food and energy, have been ventilated ad nauseam. We have had panel discussions, conferences, parliamentary debates, CARICOM summits, white papers, blue papers, green ones, possibly even polka dot papers on these issues. But if one can judge by the depreciation of agriculture and the absence of a major, thriving non-fossil fuel energy thrust, then the seriousness we attached to these sectors must be questioned.
But there is still hope. Initiatives by personalities such as businessmen Ralph Bizzy Williams and a few technocrats in the Ministry of Energy suggest that the dream for a substantial departure from fossil-fuel energy has not been shelved. The direction this takes will depend on the willingness of both Government and the private sector to invest heavily in both these sectors. Unfortunately, though, agriculture had long been sacrificed on the altar of commercial constructions.
One of the major lessons from the retrenchment exercise has been that a compromised trade union movement is of minimal help to workers. Unions owe their loyalties to workers first, second and third. It is as simple as that. The workers are the reason unions exist. Trade Unions do not owe their existence to Government or to capital. They must be socially responsible entities at all times but they should never give the impression that they are in bed with either Government or capital. Whether true or false, today in Barbados there are many workers – retrenched and still employed – who are questioning the competence, credibility and character of those to whom they pay their dues and who they do not expect, from the position of lambs, to be willingly cavorting with lions.
There are many more lessons to be learned. Whether we have paid heed will be determined in the future if once more we have to ask ourselves -”How did we get here again?”