For the second time this week, Prime Minister Mia Mottley met with workers in a bid to make the bitter pill of austerity easier to swallow as an IMF-supervised programme tightens its grip on public corporations.
And workers of the cash-strapped Transport Board emerged from this morning’s five-hour audience with the premier saying the way forward did not seem so bleak.
The workers are still not clear how many of the 560 staff will be retrenched, but several of the over 200 in attendance told Barbados TODAY that they now feel “less anxious” about the process
Applause could be heard on several occasions as Mottley addressed the workers, union officials, Transport Board managers and directors at the Barbados Workers Union’s Solidarity House headquarters at Harmony Hall.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mottley was adamant that the gathering was not part of the negotiation process but an opportunity to present fiscal realities while hearing workers concerns and suggestions.
This echoed a dawn meeting held yesterday with Sanitation Service Authority workers over the vexed issue overtime, which she declared was not a negotiation, even though apparently extracting a concession from the workers to voluntarily abandon their claims to weekend overtime pay.
Of today’s meeting, the Prime Minister told journalists: “We met with workers because it is important that we understand where we both stand, how we can work together and how we can make this journey together.
“This is about the third set of workers that I have met with this week, so I have made the determination that I want to go out there and hear first-hand from the people and hear what their perspectives are.
“ At the same time, I need to share where we are as a Government and what we can do because the most important thing is that we are on the same page in the interest of this country” Mottley added.
Barbados TODAY reported last week that with Government’s finances to the bus company to be cut at month-end and no money left to pay the current staff, concerns are mounting about the pace of negotiations with the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU) over a second round of layoffs.
A Transport Board source close to the talks has told Barbados TODAY that after two months of meetings, neither the union nor the state-owned bus service was budging from their respective positions.
But although keen to cast herself as a hands-on Prime Minister, Mottley was adamant that today’s meeting did not trespass into the territory reserved for those at the negotiation table.
“I did not come here to negotiate,” she declared. “Those are matters for the union and the management. I came here to make sure that we hear what the workers feel, and I could share where the country is along this journey. I also wanted to cast governance in a new perspective.
“The notion that prime ministers remain cloistered in offices and not hear from workers directly is not something I want to be associated with. I came to Government by rubbing shoulders and I intend to govern by continuing to rub shoulders.”
Mottley also said the workers were under no illusion about the gravity of the challenges facing the Government-owned public transport service.
She stressed: “Clearly we inherited a situation that was deeply challenged. About five years ago we had about 500 privately owned public service vehicles but we now have over 800 when we inherited the government. That increase came at the same time that the Transport Board’s fleet went down by more than half, and this has severely compromised the organisation in terms of its revenue and expenditure. This is but one of the things that has led to the instability of the institution.”