Doomsday delay

The day of reckoning for thousands of civil

servants has been pushed back.

After meeting today for two hours with

representatives of the island’s two major

trade unions, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart

announced that the start of the Government’s

dreaded retrenchment programme, which was

scheduled to begin on January 15, had now be

delayed until month-end at the latest.

This is to allow the Ministry of the Civil

Service to complete the final list of people who

would be sent home.

In explaining the situation, Stuart said

“because of the constraints under which we

have had to operate in even generating the list,

[it] has proven to be a bigger challenge than

would have been the case back in 1991 [the last

occasion when large numbers of public servants

were sent home].

“[Back then] there [were] no casual workers

around; there is a Public Service Act in

place . . . [no] constitutional amendments in

place and all the constraints that did not exist

in 1991.

“The Ministry of the Civil Service has

taken a little more time. It has had to be a

lot more careful. What I have said is that we

target now the end of this month [January];

that deadline is not negotiable. By Thursday, I

imagine that the Cabinet paper that deals with

the modalities we will be following will come

up for consideration,” Stuart said as he emerged from the

talks accompanied by Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler and

Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo.

The Prime Minister added that once Government had

finalized its way forward, it would be able to share the

definitive information with the unions. He also indicated that

the Ministry of the Civil Service would, in a matter of days,

have the final list ready.

“Once I see that final list [and] I am able to approve

it, I will share it with the unions so that we can start to

have meaningful discussion with their members. [But] that

January 15 deadline [outlined by the Minister of Finance on

December 13, last year] is nothing more than a pipe dream,”

Stuart told reporters.

Also commenting at the end of this evening’s talks,

the Barbados Workers’ Union general secretary Sir Roy

Trotman downplayed the January 15 deadline that had

initially been set by the Government, saying that it was not a

good way in which to have negotiations.

“[H]aving those discussions in circumstances where

a deadline was being waved as though it was a red flag

that would constitute a situation, which we could not be

comfortable with . . . the 15th now does not hold the level

of trepidation, which it did previously.

“That is not to say that we don’t have a

problem. Government has said that there is a problem of

being able to find hard cash to pay the level of public sector

workers that it is currently paying. We have understood that

for quite sometime but we have at the sane time been trying

to have a number of things rationalized, made public, made

clear enough so that once we know what there is, we can

endeavour to put our alternatives,” Sir Roy told journalists.

He revealed the alternatives, which the unions would be

putting up, might not meet the levels of saving required by

the Government; but in any case, he said, it was not their

role to, as workers’ bargaining agents, to find

all the solutions.

“It is enough that we will carry out our function to

protect the interests of the working class, particularly our

members. We have been trying to do that and push forward

proposals, which, if accepted, and if acted upon, will go a long

way towards assuaging some of the pain and suffering which

is still around the corner, despite this third meeting that we

have had,” the BWU spokesman pointed out.

For their part, the National Union of Public Workers

[NUPW] representatives said that they would have to first

report to their executive council, before agreeing to a way

forward with Government.

President Walter Maloney said though he was generally

happy that the talks had “moved forward a bit” and that there

was still room for there to be some latitude in terms

of the cuts.

“We must also be cognizant, too, that there is a time

frame in which we have to act in this manner. The union has

understood this. This is not about the NUPW and the BWU.

It also has to be about the other unions as well,” he said.

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