Public sector members of the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) have been left with a bitter taste in their mouths from Government’s Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) programme.
In fact, BWU General Secretary Senator Toni Moore said today that there is a general feeling that they had to bear a disproportionate cost of the adjustment and that the union had not done enough to cushion the blow.
Under the BERT programme, the Mia Mottley-led administration has implemented a range of new taxes and embarked on a retrenchment exercise that has so far seen more than 1,200 public sector workers going home.
Addressing the opening of the 16th Annual Week of Excellence at the Grande Salle, Central Bank, Moore did not state the extent of the dissatisfaction, but said while she agreed there needed to be economic improvement it should not happen at the expense of “the social sector”.
The theme for the Week of Excellence is Driving Change Towards the New Economy.
“Economic success cannot be achieved without social success. Therefore, people must be the beneficiaries of the changes we pursue. People must be the beneficiaries of the changes in the new economy. The new economy must provide a vision of an optimistic future for our people. The social sector, therefore, must not bear disproportionately the cost of adjustments to achieve economic growth,” warned Moore.
“This is a stated underpinning of the BERT programme, but in the roll out up to now, and on the heels of public sector retrenchment, although we have reached targets and although I embrace many of the principles of the BERT programme as being fundamental to engendering greater discipline and so on, many are left with the feeling that they have had to bear disproportionately, the cost of adjustments. What is worse is that the trade union is being blamed for not doing enough to stop it.”
Senator Moore said the BWU has been grappling with questions such as how to build confidence among members, how to become a driver of change in the new economy, and how to assure people that in a rapidly changing work environment it was possible to achieve growth that benefits them.
She also said the new economy called for “heavy investment” in people and the creation of jobs and opportunities.
“It calls for strong social protection systems. It calls for the observance of social dialogue and the fundamental principles – rights at work,” added Moore.
Governor of the Central Bank Cleviston Haynes, also speaking at the opening, said the new economy required timely and accurate data to help authorities better innovate and inform real-time decision-making.
Haynes said since the implementation of the BERT programme, there have been some encouraging signs in the economy.
“Our public finances have been reordered to the extent that we are now on target to achieve a primary surplus of 3.3 per cent of GDP [gross domestic product] for fiscal year 2018/2019,” said Haynes.
While adding that the confidence necessary for investment and growth was returning, he warned that now was not the time to “relax”.
In fact, the Central Bank Governor said further changes towards building a new economy would require sacrifices on the part of both the public and private sectors.
“So, whether you are in the public sector or private sector you will be called upon to do more with less because of the economic constraints. Public sector leaders who now have smaller budgets need, therefore, to be more nimble and flexible and improve efficiency in their operations,” he said, adding that new approaches to traditional ways of doing things were also needed.
Haynes added that he was confident that when the reforms were fully implemented, they would support the change towards a new economy, which he said should be knowledge-based and services and technology-driven, while promoting innovation and creativity.
“The BERT programme symbolizes one aspect of this change as we seek to restore economic and fiscal discipline. However, there is also a need for change in attitude, change in behaviour, a change in mindset and a change in culture,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Ed Clarke said he was heartened by the planned transformation for the Barbados economy.
Likening the economic health of the country to that of a badly injured patient, he said: “We have just left the hospital’s emergency room and we are now in the recovery room, which is part one.”
Clarke acknowledged that any changes towards a new economy would have significant implications for both employers and employees, he said organisations should expect new terms of employment, change to work hours, new age of retirement and new age for an individual to start working.
He said that in order for Barbados to adequately compete, it would need to improve on its use of technology, transform its power source to 100 per cent renewable energy, transform the education system and strengthen partnerships between the public and private sectors.