March But You Can’t Blackmail My Government, Barbados PM Tells Unions, Private Sector

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart says no march will force his government to reverse the tax hike.


BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Monday July 24, 2017 – As trade unions and the private sector unite for a protest march this morning, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is making it clear that it won’t force his government to reverse the controversial increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL).

In fact, Stuart said yesterday that he would do nothing to stop the march from going ahead.

“A few people got on to me, begging me to meet quickly to head it off. I do not want to head it off, I want it to happen. The people of Barbados have to see what is possible around here, and how far people will go in the pursuit of their perverse objectives,” the Prime Minister said, adding that no government in the world could be run on the basis of “undisguised blackmail”.

The march led by the Barbados Workers’ Union (BWU), the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT), the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) and the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) is to show dissatisfaction with Government’s refusal to return to the negotiating table with the social partners in response to their calls to review the hike of the tax from two per cent to ten per cent from July 1.

“If the government comes to the conclusion that the tax is not achieving the objectives which the government intended it to achieve, the government will have to revisit it,” Stuart said. “But the idea of any business entity in Bridgetown deciding that when the government is going to impose taxation of any kind you have to get their permission before you impose it, that is not on. And I don’t believe quite honestly that the trade unions believe that is the way it should be done either.”

Stuart spoke about the issue at length at a luncheon of the ruling Democratic Labour Party’s Christ Church West constituency branch, as he revealed that BPSA chairman Charles Herbert had sent him a letter dated July 14 giving him until 4:30 p.m. on July 17 to get back to him regarding dialogue on the NSRL.

In his letter, Herbert had urged Stuart to meet to avoid “social unrest”, and indicated that government should have dialogue with all members of the social partnership before implementing fiscal measures.

The Prime Minister scoffed at the latter suggestion, adding that he would be a traitor to let unelected officials determine how government runs the country.

“I would be a traitor to those who fought for universal adult suffrage,” Stuart said of “elements that have not faced the electorate but who want final decisions on Barbados’ policies and Barbados’ future to reside with them and them alone”.

Regarding the reference to “social unrest”, Stuart said: “The Prime Minister of Barbados was told to meet or to schedule a meeting in order to avert social unrest which is a coded way of saying if you don’t meet there will be social unrest.

“The phrase ‘social unrest’ can only mean one thing – creating a situation where the society is thrown into chaos. I have said that as Minister of Defence and Security, I can’t deal with that directly; it’s a matter for the Royal Barbados Police Force and any assistance they may need if we get to that stage,” he said.

Stuart denied that there had been no dialogue or that the government was indifferent to the demands of public sector workers for pay increases, and said his administration was committed to paying a wage hike once it raised the required revenues.

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