Barbados prime minister promises minimal disruption of households

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Tuesday December 17, 2013, CMC – Barbados’s Prime Minister Freundel Stuart on Monday promised that his administration would undertake a “careful analysis” before deciding on the 3,000 public workers who would be sent home next year as the government seeks to revive the ailing Barbadian economy.

The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which represents the majority of public servants here, said it would hold a meeting with its membership on Thursday before making any public statement on the retrenchment of workers announced last week by Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Chris Sinckler.

But Stuart speaking to reporters said that he wanted to assure the country that “we are not going to be sitting down and by the elegant flourish of a pen or pencil, throw people’s life in disorder.

“A careful analysis will be done, and we will try to make sure that this process is run as smoothly as possible…that households are disrupted minimally, but that the government objectives are achieved,” he added.

Sinckler said that the government would trim the public service as well as reduce by 10 per cent the salaries of ministers, government legislators, parliamentary secretaries and those considered to be a “political appointee”.

Sinckler said that the plan to cut public service jobs would result in the government saving as much as DBS$143 million (One BDS dollar = US$0.50 cents) and that the government had also agreed to institute a “strict programme of attrition” across the central public service, filling posts only where it is absolutely unavoidable, over the next five years, ending 2018-2019.

“This attrition is expected to reduce central government employment levels from approximately 16 970 to 14, 612 jobs – a projected loss of 2 358 posts; and savings of BDS$121 million. Over the current 19-month adjustment period public sector employment will be reduced by an additional 501 jobs with a projected savings of BDS$26 million,” he added.

The government said that the first 2 000 job cuts would take place by January 15, followed by others by March 1.

Prime Minister Stuart, whose administration was re-elected in the February general election, said “no government sits down and decides that it is going to lay off people because it wants to be wicked, because it wants to show how malicious it can be; these are very, very difficult decisions and we held [off] on decisions like this for a very long time.

“I take most serious exception to the situation of people erupting into applause and saying ‘we got them’ because they have to lay off people. When you have to lay off people you are making a very difficult decision and of course this situation has to be managed very humanely. It was so handled in the past and it will be handled similarly when we have to deal with it now. But this was not a situation that we could avoid.”

Stuart said that 54.3 per cent of the government’s revenue was spent on wages and salary, adding that this translated to roughly BDS$0.55 cents (One BDS dollar =US$0.50 cents) of every dollar being earned going to pay wages and salary.

He said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently noted that  wages and salaries account for 10.3 per cent of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP).

“The question is, can we continue to ignore structural and systemic problems… We have to see the big picture. Barbados has to be economically viable, it has to be economically sound and where tough decisions have to be taken, the Government of the people has to have the courage to take them,” Prime Minister Stuart said.

He said the local economy must be restructured to ensure it did not remain vulnerable to the challenges. “That is why we were here …launching this Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel initiative, [and] that’s why we last Friday, in the House of Assembly, introduced the new Electric Light and Power Bill, piloted by myself because the restructuring that should have taken place in this economy years ago when things were going well, [and] the benefits that should have been harvested then were not harvested, that is why we are where we are now.

“The challenge has to be met, it is being met and I am confident that out of this will come a socially balanced, economically viable and an environmentally sound Barbados that benefits … all of us, a Barbados of which we can be ultimately proud,” Stuart said.

He said that Barbados also found itself in difficult circumstances in previous years, but “we were able to get things back together.

“People had to make sacrifices but that is the nature of the Barbadian, we know how to make sacrifices when sacrifices are required. We are a resilient people; we could not have been the great nation we have become if we did not have the resilience of which we have been able to boast over centuries.”

Prime Minister Stuart said his administration had been monitoring the situation and doing the best it could, in addition to ensuring that workers were not put on the breadline over the past six years.

He told reporters that the government had taken the decision to extend the unemployment benefit period from 26 to 40 weeks in order to help those in the private sector who lost their jobs to weather the economic storm.

He said the government, through the National Insurance Department, had put in place a BDS$10 million retraining fund to help those who lost their jobs in the private sector. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)