BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday June 14, 2017 – Taxes or job cuts!
That’s the two options Finance Minister Chris Sinckler tabled after the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) issued Government a July 1ultimatum to scrap crippling taxes imposed in the Budget or face industrial action.
“Make no mistake about it; those are the hard choices which we face at this time,” Sinckler told online newspaper Barbados Today.
At issue is the significant hike in the National Social Responsibility Levy which moved from two per cent to ten per cent, the introduction of a two per cent levy on foreign exchange transactions and a rise in the excise tax on gasoline and diesel.
Last weekend, NUPW president Akanni McDowall called on Government to reverse the tax measures or introduce a “coping subsidy” for public servants pending the outcome of ongoing salary negotiations.
The union boss argued that the tax measures would hike the already high cost of living by 15 per cent, adding that workers who have been subjected to a wage freeze for some time now cannot cope.
“The union further recognizes that the hike in the social responsibility levy from two per cent to ten per cent will result in across-the-board increases in the price of food, other necessity items, and further diminish the spending capacity of its members and the wider public . . . These measures cut at the core of the functioning of every household in Barbados, some of which are already under extreme pressure.”
However, Sinckler maintained there would be a high price to pay, describing the union’s position as “ill-advised” and “unfortunate.”
“Indeed, lest they forget, perhaps it bears reminding that there are a growing number of persons out there who believe that Government should immediately and substantially reduce the size of the public sector, especially its wages bill. Now while that may be coded language for some, it simply means that Government should send home thousands of public servants from the service.”
“So, if the NUPW leadership is prepared to make the choice of seeing large amounts of their membership lose their employment and with it the capacity to earn a living, then I would definitely consider that position to be both ill-advised and undesirable,” he warned.
The Minister of Finance however left the door opened for talks with the NUPW.
Meantime, Opposition Leader Mia Mottley yesterday took Sinckler to task for his “bizarre threat” to send public workers home, if he did not get his way with the new taxes.
“Public workers are not excess baggage on an overweight plane to be shed at will,” she said, adding that “the minister must stop using Government employees as scapegoats to cover up his incompetence”.
She suggested that greater emphasis should be placed on eliminating wastage and cutting Government’s overall spending. Mottley further called for greater transparency in awarding contracts and for Government to action matters raised in successive reports by the Auditor General.