Scores of Barbadians on National Insurance disability benefits, who are eagerly awaiting the restoration of their pension from the treasury, are growing restless with Government as another deadline approaches without word from authorities.
Leaders of at least two local trade unions say their members, after getting little reassurance from workers at the Treasury Department, have come to them, desperate to find out if anything can be done on their behalf.
Last July, after numerous delays, Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Ryan Straughn announced that Barbadians receiving their pensions would have the money, which was slashed back in May, repaid retroactively.
“We haven’t heard anything either and our members have been making calls to the Treasury and they have said that they have not received any instruction to restore it. So I am a little bit perplexed that the thing has not been restored just yet,” said acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Delcia Burke.
She told Barbados TODAY, efforts by union officials to provide more clarity have been futile, because treasury workers will only give information to people who are affected.
“…But our members are calling us. Minister Colin Jordan said it should be paid by the end of August, but so far nothing has come and I cannot tell you why,” added Burke.
The union leader said the near four-month impasse continues to severely affect the livelihoods of the deprived pensioners.
“If you are accustomed to a particular amount of money and you understand that money will last till you reach 67 and all of a sudden it is snatched away from you, obviously you would not have budgeted for the loss of that money. So it has been having a very negative impact on people right now.
“People have not been able to complete a number of payments. Some people are having difficulty paying their rent and obviously they have to cut down on things like food and toiletries. We would have written to the Ministry of the Civil Service asking for an intervention or at least an explanation. But so far, we have not heard anything,” said Burke.
“Pay the people as soon as possible,” the union leader urged.
Affected pensioners have recently been contacting Barbados TODAY and popular call-in programmes to voice their frustration at the situation. The issue came to national attention when Janice Harris mounted a one-woman protest outside the Houses of Parliament in May.
When contacted, Minister of Labour Colin Jordan said the matter was now squarely under the supervision of his counterpart in the Ministry of Economic Affairs Ryan Straughn. However multiple efforts to reach Straughn were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, General Secretary of Unity Workers’ Union, Senator Caswell Franklyn accused Government of trying to save money on the back of the poor.
“These [pensioners] are people who cannot work anymore and are entitled to receive their invalidity benefits under the National Insurance Act. Those benefits are payable until you reach pensionable age. It is not a pension right now and Government has no reason other than dishonesty to cut it. It has never been done before but in this current climate, they are trying to save money on the backs of the people,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Franklyn also questioned Government’s decision to write-off thousands of dollars in taxes for members of the business community, while disadvantaging working-class citizens.
“It is hurtful. Nobody voted for this and nobody expected that this Government would be so cruel to the very people that voted for it,” said the union leader. (KS)