Former PM warns more layoffs may come
A former regional leader is warning that the retrenchment programme being implemented in Barbados is just the tip of the iceberg and many other Caricom states would have no choice but to begin sending home public sector employees as well.
Lester Bird, who led Antigua and Barbuda for ten consecutive years ending in 2004, said almost all countries in the 15-member regional bloc may have to begin layoffs to help deal with their struggling economies.
At the same time, Bird said, the impact of sending home thousands of public servants will be “tremendously negative”.
“It is my view that the other countries are going to follow. They’re going to be asked to layoff workers so this is . . . something that is going to affect the whole Caribbean and I suspect that the Central Bank and other financial institutions of the Caribbean are going to want to encourage the governments to lay off workers and it’s a question for the government to make a political decision as to whether or not they feel that they want to follow this recommendation,” he told Barbados TODAY, while stating that he is not interfering in the affairs of Barbados,
Towards the end of his Antigua Labour Party’s term in office, an accounting firm had recommended that between 2,000 to 3,000 workers be laid off.
Bird, who was facing a general election within months, opted against retrenchment.
However, soon after assuming office, the Baldwin Spencer-led administration implemented a Voluntary Separation And Early Retirement Programme to reduce its wage bill by about $50 million annually.
Bird admits that the sending home workers would have sociopolitical consequences, including higher unemployment, and could even cause citizens to take to the streets in protest.
But, he said, it’s a decision that even the ALP, if it assumes office in the next general election, would be faced with.
“The impact of that upon the society in the Caribbean and in Antigua is that it is going to be very deleterious and pretty soon you may find the people may take to the streets and distablise the whole society. The reality is it ia about jobs, jobs, jobs. That is what all the governments have to concentrate on including Antigua, Barbados, St Kitts, all the CARICOM countries,” the elder statesman.
To get a handle on the situation, Bird is suggesting that the private sector in the region step up to the plate and fulfill its role of providing absorptive capacity to deal with dismissed workers.
In the case of Antigua and Barbuda, he explained, this process could be facilitated by the removal of the Personal Income Tax and reducing other taxes that could free up at least $40 million that would be pumped back into the economy.
Government, in turn, would not be affected because it would be spending less money on wages and salaries, he stated.
“They [private sector] have to play the role of being the absorptive capacity to taking a lot of these workers on. If they’re going to do that then the governments have got to free up the economy, cut back on the taxes, and allow the private sector a reduction in the taxes,” Bird said further.