Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) do not represent the official position of Barbados TODAY.
I have struggled with whether or not I would join the marchers against proposed changes to Barbados’ National Insurance Scheme (NIS) regulations. I am going to march and hope the organisers hold it again. What convinces me at 3 in the morning and as a pensioner who depends on my accumulated savings in the NIS, is that these are my savings and not largesse on the part of any government regime.
I know I help to vote in whatever government regime exists to act on my behalf, in coming up with laws and arranging how monies would be spent that I pay into the Treasury as a tax to live in this country of my birth. I see and enjoy the results of that government spending, in the roads I travel, the buses that take me about, the education my godsons get to acquire, the security forces that make it possible for me to sleep with some practical measure of comfort, and more.
But I saved towards my old age in one place, the National Insurance Scheme, to meet my expenses when I could no longer produce to earn my living. I do not give up that right to decide what happens in the Scheme to any regime of government that can change or not change, depending on a political process in which I am losing trust. (I tried saving in one private insurance company, but when I could not add yearly to the fund, I watched the private insurance company eat up my little savings in what they and the banks call administrative costs).
I once asked two senior economists of the Central Bank of Barbados at the time, Governor Delisle Worrell and Mr Clyde Mascoll, “Why can a government not use the monies of the NIS to help out the country if the economy is in trouble?” You see, I saw the NIS as a kind of piggy bank where a country saves for particularly those hard times. I do not remember feeling made wiser by the responses I got, but that may have been my own lack of understanding. If a government helps to manage investment to earn on an NIS scheme, if it legislated it into existence in the first place, then the government ought to have some say in its use and the guidelines that direct that use. But it is not a government’s money, just as it is not the employer’s money to use to help out his or her business when that is in trouble.
My problem in the question I posed to two eminently qualified Barbadian economists was my slipping from savers in an NIS to “the country”. The “country” belongs to the government. The savers’ monies belong to them and their dependents, whoever these might be. NIS pensions in Barbados support households to a degree that maybe the International Labour Organisation, which
helped Caribbean governments to set them up, never intended. The ILO, after all, also wants people to be employed, and the country has carried levels of unemployment like people’s survival does not matter. However, our levels of unemployment are not all the results of COVID, so the payouts of NIS in respect of COVID cannot be blamed for where we are now. NIS may be a piggy bank, but its funds are not monopoly money. I am afraid it has taken on that quality for everybody who oversees its use.
Forgive this letter for being so long, but I want to encourage others to join in protesting the changes proposed to the NIS by arguing the case. Far more than we need more money in the NIS, we need guidelines and policies to ensure that savers are not swindled out of our savings by either misguided employers or misguided governments. The country cannot afford the ramifications of that, and I hear nothing in the proposals that make me confident we will not be back at this problem in the NIS Fund again.
I am afraid I see the digging down and replacement of the first NIS building in Fairchild Street to be replaced by a monument of entertainment in exactly the same way I now see these proposed changes. That first building was built by MTW workers, not a private construction firm, I am told.
I call on the trade unions of Barbados – the BWU, NUPW, BUT, BSTU –, Barbados Registered Nurses Association and other staff associations to support workers in a far more robust fashion over this, than distancing themselves from the actions of either Caswell Franklyn, Marcia Weekes, Lynette Eastmond or Maxine McClean whose faces we see in the videos and flyers and media post-mortems on the marches. The NIS is actually a workers’ concern, not the sole concern of any political party to which anybody is affiliated or any political agenda of any private activist. I am cancelling a private teaching session with a student to march. I hope the workers of your newspaper join, too.
Margaret D. Gill, Ph.D