The jobs of 500 Barbadians are currently hanging in the balance as the local garment manufacturing industry continues to be crippled by imports, said one of the island’s largest garment makers.
And Dean Straker, the co-managing director of Barbados Industries Ltd, is calling on Government to urgently put a policy in place to either keep the industry alive or allow operators to move in a different direction.
Straker told reporters at a Barbados Manufacturers Association (BMA) media conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Tuesday, that while the industry used to have thousands of workers, the 300 to 500 workers remaining could be put on the breadline if something was not done urgently.
“We have a situation where in my industry, which is garment manufacturing, those manufacturing companies are folding every year. They are getting less and less. You have to think to yourself, ‘why?’ People are going to shut because they are not making money. They are not making money because of all the imports that are happening.
“But I think Government needs to decide if they want to have garment manufacturing anymore and let those that are in it make future plans because everybody can import. But the fact of the matter is, I look at my staff every week and they have families.
“I go to pay them every Friday and I think to myself ‘what happens when I tell them one week that this is it’. A lot of people are going to be affected.”
He told reporters that once there was a clear policy, everyone would know exactly where they stand and what their next step should be, whether to say in the industry or move on.
And while he could not say how soon his company or any other could fold if they did not get their concerns addressed, Straker said the policy should be put in place “very soon or else, as I said, different aspects of manufacturing will fall by the wayside and garment manufacturing is traditionally big numbers”.
For decades, garment manufacturers in Barbados have been complaining about the impact of imported products on ever-dwindling factories.
“You have a situation here where Government needs to set the tone, they need to let Barbadians know ‘this is what we expect’.
“And we, for example, are telling our agencies, our ministries and statutory boards that you have to take tenders from Barbadian manufacturers and not from companies that have two or three staff in an office importing uniforms in the island.
“I am just saying for us to stay in business we need support. So if we don’t get that support then obviously we have to go the way of others.”
Straker said the Mottley administration was aware of the issues.
On day three of the Barbados Manufacturers’ Exhibition (BMEX) which concluded yesterday, Minister of International Business and Industry Ronald Toppin promised that a National Industrial Policy would be put in place to help revive manufacturing.
A first draft of the policy was to be ready by September and finalized before the end of the current financial year, he said.
Pointing to a decline over the years, Toppin acknowledged that the number of people employed in the sector, the number of companies, the level of investment and the contribution of the sector to the economy had all fallen significantly over the past decade.
While the Minister made no mention of garment manufacturers or any other groups, he also said there would be a national consultation with manufacturers in coming months so they could air their concerns and help to identify solutions.
Straker said he welcomed the idea of a national industrial policy, adding that this gave him some “hope”.
BMA executive director Shardae Boyce said she left the BMEX showcase with the feeling that the local manufacturing sector was in good hands, adding that she was most encouraged by the number of young people involved in the sector and the innovative products they were producing.
Pointing to plans for a national industry policy to help revive manufacturing, Boyce said: “These are things, from working in the profession, I know manufacturers will need to thrive.”
While there were still some furniture manufacturers, which was once a heavy focus on the island, the industry had seen a shift in recent years to more personal care items and food production.