BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Friday July 28, 2017 – Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has set August 11 as the new date for talks with the island’s social partners to discuss the controversial National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) hike and a wider fiscal strategy.
The development comes on the heels of an assurance from Stuart on Tuesday that he was available to meet with the island’s trade unions and private sector, which had one day earlier led a massive protest of more than 20,000 citizens demanding fresh dialogue.
The two sides were originally set to meet on August 18 one week later.
Charles Herbert, chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) which had joined the island’s four major trade unions in leading the march, confirmed he was in receipt of the letter advising of the August 11 meeting and was optimistic that the talks would make headway.
“I think the 11th allows for emotions to die down, so that when we do meet we have rational discussion and not emotional discussion,” he told Barbados Today online newspaper.
Herbert said while he had no issue with the meeting being televised, as the Prime Minister said they would be, he insisted the talks could not be about show.
“I believe that if the right discussion happens in that meeting, it would be good for it to be televised. [However], I think if televising it makes it an opportunity for political grandstanding, then that would be a shame,” he said.
However, at least one trade union leader was not impressed by Stuart setting the talks almost two weeks from now. President of the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union Mary Redman made it clear that having the talks one week ahead of their scheduled meeting could not be regarded as treating the issue as urgent.
She also expressed concern that there was no agenda set for the meeting.
Trade unions and the private sector have been calling on the Government to roll back the increase in the NSRL which took effect on July 1 – now ten per cent, up from two per cent – and consider the introduction of a coping subsidy to cushion the blow of an expected rise in the cost of living for public servants.