Barbados delays public sector layoffs

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By Sharon Austin

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — Cabinet should receive a paper for consideration on Thursday, which would set out the modalities to be followed as the Barbados government deals with the issues relating to those public workers who will be laid off.

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Prime Minister Freundel Stuart

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made this disclosure on Monday evening after a two-hour meeting with officials of the Barbados Workers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers, including their general secretaries, Sir Roy Trotman, and Dennis Clarke.

Also present were Minister of Finance, Christopher Sinckler; Minister of Labour, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo; and officials from the ministries of finance and economic affairs and civil service.

Stuart said January 15 had been set for the lay-offs to begin, but pointed out: “That date must now be vacated because of the challenges posed to the Ministry of the Civil Service, in even generating the list [of employees] to be affected.

“But, we are certain now that by the end of this month we should be able to deal with those issues definitively and finally. And, of course, between now and the end of the month, the unions will have an opportunity for their input on those issues.”

The prime minister insisted that government had budgetary targets which must be achieved and urged the unions not to be sidetracked by the numbers.

“Achieving those targets will necessarily mean that some workers will be affected. I do not know how many workers exactly will be affected because we have to work through this process. We are generating a list of possible workers to be affected, but because of the constraints within which we have been forced to operate, the ministry of civil service has to be very careful. There are people’s legal rights that have to be respected; there are challenges we face now that were not evident in 1991, and, therefore, when that list becomes available, then we will be in a position to know what the exact fall out will be. But, whatever the exact fallout is going to be, the budgetary targets cannot be compromised,” he underscored.

However, Stuart stressed that households with two breadwinners in the public service would not be “denuded” of both.

“As long as we are aware of it, we will make sure that households have at least one breadwinner. The unions have undertaken to work along with us with that because unions will have information on those matters that might not be readily available to the government,” he explained.

He added that the separation packages to which workers would be entitled to would be based on the principles that were followed in 1991.

He said information he had received from the ministries of finance and civil service indicated that in some cases the separation packages were likely to be a little more generous than in 1991, to take account of present realities.

“So, workers are not going to be disadvantaged in that regard. We will make sure their financial entitlements are taken care of and that justice is done in accordance with the law,” Stuart maintained.

The prime minister said that the unions had put a number of proposals on the table, and while he was not one for taking anything off, some of the proposals could not deal with the problems now confronting the country.

“But not all of our problems are budgetary. Some of the problems we are facing have to do with overall public administration. We are in a 19-month programme and there are proposals which have been put on the table that may not be relevant to the short term budgetary objectives we are trying to pursue, but would be relevant to the restructuring that must take place in our public administration to make Government more efficient. Therefore, we are making sure that where we find useful suggestions put before us that we will take full advantage of the wisdom of those suggestions,” he remarked.

Stuart acknowledged that some people were of the opinion that the government should just get on with what had to be done without consultation. However, the prime minister stated that those people were ignoring the social partnership protocol by which the country is guided.

He said: “We have been consulting; we know what our budgetary targets are; we know what the overall economic objective is, but we cannot short circuit the process in the name of something called ‘getting on with it’; we have to follow the procedures which we are required to follow by law.”

The prime minister described the meeting as successful, and stated that the government was trying to make what was being done as “palatable and digestible” as possible. He said that the unions understood what the government was doing, adding, however, that they had to protect the interest of their constituents.

“And, they have been doing so quite vigorously and quite commendably and I respect that. But, when all is said and done, the trade unionists and the workers are all citizens of Barbados, interested in Barbados’ overall welfare and sensitive to the need … that Barbados’ finances are put on a solid footing and that this economy is put on an equally solid foundation,” Stuart said.

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