Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo is concerned that this country’s trade unions are not handling its economic problems in a mature manner.
Instead, she says, they have been lashing out like a group of doubting Thomases in response to what is essentially is a grim reality.
“As a doctor I know that when you have a difficult diagnosis sometimes you fight it, you go to ten different doctors because you don’t believe the first one, you get on your knees and say, ‘please, God please’. You do all sort of things, you argue, you drink, you throw things. However sometime later, it may be a day for some people, for others it might be a month, but sooner or later you realize that none of these things are changing the diagnosis and they need to accept it,” Byer Suckoo said, while stressing that sooner or later the trade unions would have to come to such a realization.
She was responding to Thursday’s announcement by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the Barbados Workers Union (BWU), Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union (BSTU) that they intend to march on Parliament next Tuesday, as the first phase of ramped up action aimed at getting the Freundel Stuart administration to, at the very least, cut its controversial ten per cent National Social Responsibility Levy by half.
The levy, which was originally implemented by Government last year as a two per cent tax on mostly imported items, was increased to ten per cent as part of the austerity measures presented by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler in his May 30 Budget.
However, speaking to Barbados TODAY Friday morning on the sidelines of an IICA farm graduation programme at the Harbour Industrial Estate, Byer-Suckoo argued that Government was left with no feasible alternatives to what was presented by Sinckler and therefore the unions were engaging in an exercise in futility.
“All of this comes after sitting for six hours with the Prime Minister the Minister of Finance and others two weeks ago. So I am a little bit amazed that we are still coming to this position after they [unions] were shown very clearly why we are where we are,” she said.
While praising the unions for adopting a united stance on the issue, she argued that their stance on the economy was the wrong one to take at this time.
“This concept of coalition is a good idea but it is the wrong coalition. What we need right now is for all Barbadians to come together and work through this. Right now if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem,” the minister said.
She also suggested that by resisting the $542 million austerity measures, the unions were essentially hampering their own chances of successfully negotiating a wage increase for public workers since it was all contingent on Government reaching its revenue target.
Byer-Suckoo also told Barbados TODAY that the unions’ assertion that civil servants had not received a pay increase in nine years was not entirely accurate since Government had consistently paid increments to workers.
“Government has made its hand very clear and it’s no secret that we do not have the money to pay salary increases. Our civil servants have continued to get their increments and this is something that we must not discount. This means that there has been an increase in the take home salary for civil servants, but because we don’t mention that we think that civil servants have not gotten any increase at all. So while they don’t get a basic salary increase they get that increment each year and that is something that would also cost our Treasury,” she stressed.