COLUMN-The poor cyarn tek no more!
The people of Barbados –– the ordinary working class and middle class citizens –– are being pressed too hard. Human beings –– even decent and reasonable human beings –– can only take so much, and if the pressures of daily living become unbearable, they will eventually “explode” in one way or another.
Over the past five years or so, working class and middle class Barbadians have been buffeted by a punishing and constantly rising cost of living, increasing unemployment, unconscionably high public utility and land tax rates, a so-called Municipal Solid Waste Tax, unsustainable rent charges for small businesses and households, increasing vulnerability of homeowners to mortgage foreclosures and small businesspeople to business failures, and excessive bank charges and interest rates.
And at the same time, these hard-pressed working people have been witnessing the spectacle of a class of privileged Barbadians (including many politicians) flaunting opulent lifestyles, engaging in parasitic practices, and pulling monthly salaries that are dozens of times the size of the salary of the minimum wage earner.
Furthermore, in the midst of this stressful and unjust situation, persistent calls keep going out from members of the social and political elite urging the working people to further tighten their belts and to hold even more strain, in the interest of seeing Barbados safely through this period of economic recession. Indeed, our Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler recently staged a national Press conference seemingly for the sole purpose of warning the already overburdened masses to expect more lay-offs and taxes.
I would like to take this opportunity to warn all and sundry that dumping even more pressure on the backs of already hard-pressed working people is a sure recipe for social and economic disaster. No single segment of the population can carry the burden of restraint; it must be fairly distributed among all groups, including those that belong to the social elite.
What Barbados desperately needs now in this “special period” of economic recession is a Comprehensive Incomes And Prices Programme, designed to ease some pressure off the working people, ensure that elite groups and institutions assume their fair share of the burden, and engineer a movement to greater fairness in salaries and income distribution.
How, for example, can a company like LIME justify making profits of some $200 million and paying their top executives salaries in excess of $25,000 a month, when ordinary Barbadians are struggling hard to pay their telephone bills in a time of severe recession?
LIME and all the other utility companies and other major corporations of Barbados need to be brought into a formal, institutionalized programme with the Government and the trade union movement to negotiate a new approach to prices, rates, charges, and salaries during this “special period” of recession.
I am therefore proposing a national programme that goes way beyond the currently existing Social Partnership. Indeed, we are calling for a programme that not only includes the Government, the trade unions and the traditional employers associations, but also the banks, the commercial landlords, the public utility companies, the insurance and mortgage companies, and the various other professional associations.
Clearly, it is our Government that will have to take the lead in expanding the Social Partnership into such a Comprehensive Incomes And Prices Programme! Once this is done, Government will then use the new network to establish an agreement with the principal groups in the economy to the effect that they will all temper their demands, and, where possible, institute modifications that will bring some ease to the working people of Barbados.
The discussion will move, therefore, from a singular fixation on a wage freeze or wage restraint for ordinary workers to discussion and agreement on abating telephone, water and electricity rates; instituting restraint on commercial and household rent; reducing land taxes and eliminating unnecessary and unduly burdensome Government charges; eliminating some bank charges and reducing interest rates on credit cards, loans and mortgages; moderating or reducing the charges of professionals such as doctors and lawyers; and implementing an effective price restraint policy for the large companies, including the large supermarkets.
The national Comprehensive Incomes And Prices Programme will also provide the ideal structure for addressing such issues as a national minimum wage, and a general upgrading of the lower and middle incomes or salaries in relation to the higher ones.
Barbados is compact and sophisticated enough as a society for something like this to be manageable and to work. All it calls for is a little vision and will on the part of the Government.
I therefore hereby call upon the Democratic Labour Party administration to move with haste to implement a Comprehensive Incomes And Prices Programme (CIPP), and to use the CIPP to deliver immediate and significant financial ease to the working people of Barbados.
Remember the admonition that was given by Adonijah in his outstanding 2014 Crop Over calypso: The Poor Cyarn Tek No More!
(David A. Comissiong, an attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement Payne Movement.)