Union: Hear us out
General secretary of the National Union of Public Workers, Dennis Clarke, has laid out a series of proposals aimed at saving the jobs of 3,000 civil servants and, in his words, steer Barbados away from “the clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the devaluation of the dollar”.
Speaking after presenting the document to the Ministry of the Civil Service, he told journalists that the answer to the problem was not downsizing the public service, since the bigger issue was Government’s $400 million deficit.
“We are of the view that we can offset that by a number of revenue-earning measures while at the same time we think that there could be an adjustment to the wages and salaries bill. [Take] the Value added Tax. We believe that there should be an adjustment to the [VAT]. Currently it is 17.5 per cent and we are saying that we believe that it should go back to the 15 per cent. We are asking for a reduction of 2.5 per cent. Reduce the interest and penalties that are attached because there are about $60.7 million that has not been collected and we are using figures going back from 2012 Barbados Economic Report.
“You did not collect $60.7 million, so in an effort to collect some aspect of it we are arguing that you can reduce back to 15 per cent. Forgive some of the interest and penalties that you are putting on the business improve your collection of these taxes and you will see then that you will put into the economy more money and at the same time reduce the cost of living,” Clarke said, suggesting that by doing so approximately $30 million out of the $60 million owed could be collected, which he noted could go towards offsetting the deficit.
Calling for an end to the freeness, the NUPW general secretary also called for a five per cent tax to be applied to computers and computer equipment, which right now are duty free.
“We need to look at this in this time of crisis. [That] five per cent tax can help us raise somewhere in the region of $2.8 million. That imposition should only be for 18 months because we are dealing with a crisis and we are not saying ‘well put it there and let it remain for another five years’.
“We are also asking for a reintroduction of bus fares and bus tickets for schoolchildren; a saving can come from that. It is our view that this project by the Government has not achieved all that it wanted to achieve because there was a question of getting the children out of certain bad habits and therefore travelling in the [Transport Board] buses,” he noted, saying that it could recognised a saving of between $6.7 million to $8.9 million.
On December 13, the Minister announced that there would be a 10 per cent cut in the salaries of all ministers, Government MPs, parliamentary secretaries, personal assistants, and other persons designated as “political appointees” in the employ of the Government. This was in addition to a 50 per cent cut in the external travel budgets of all ministries, and statutory boards.
But Clarke said this didn’t go far enough, asking for three times the amount – a 30 per cent cut in their allowances, a move he believes could pocket in the region of $303,714.60 a year.
A major proposal handed to the Ministry of the Civil services calls for public servants, instead of accepting any voluntary pay cut, be asked to give up one week’s pay in the first quarter of the year.
“We are asking that public servants be asked, because you can’t force them; it isn’t something that you can impose . . . that can be done not in one swoop, but you can take two days in January, two days in February, a day or two in March. We believe that that process will earn us over $47 million. That can work.
“Our understanding is that government must save somewhere in the region of $34 million for the first quarter of the year. We see that making that adjustment appealing to public officers . . . it is our belief that it will be much more than that [$47 million] because we are using an average salary at Z30 [roughly $2 516],” Clarke explained.
Other options outlined by the general secretary include a five per cent tax on cell phones, a slight increase of 10 cents per litre for petroleum-based products, the refinancing of the island’s debt and options for early retirement option for public officers.
“We are fully of the view that if we get an agreement with the Ministry of the Civil Service on these issues, then there would be no need to send home anyone. If they are still insisting that public service is too big, and therefore they want to reduce the Public Service, then let us look at protocol six as it relates to the whole question of redundancies and retrenchments,” Clarke said, as he described the deadline government has announced as ridiculous.
“It seems as though you want to steam roll, railroad the officers in the public service; you are not giving us enough time to sit down and work out what is fair in the particular exercise. We are reminding the MCS and the powers that be that we have to follow the protocol. It isn’t a question of them taking a unilateral decision in this matter.” (RG)