National debt a major concern


The executive director of the Barbados Employers Confederation has described 2013 as another very challenging year for most employers in Barbados.

Reporting on development over the last 12 months, Tony Walcott, who heads the body considered to be the union for employers in the country, said that a major economic concern was the continued expansion of the national debt, to finance current expenditures and the urgent need for tighter fiscal consolidation.

“These had been identified as far back as 2010 as being the areas most likely to present a drag on economic activity, unless major corrective action was taken. Even as the economies of our major trading partners began showing sustained signs of recovery, our local economic position continued to worsen with continuing declines in tourism arrival numbers and the concomitant decline in foreign exchange receipts.

“Unemployment statistics continued to reflect a level hovering around 12 per cent, with only a marginal decline reported; but it must be recognised that within the numbers officially classified as employed, there is an element currently on extended periods of reduced hours,” he revealed, adding that there were a new challenge threatening.

These, he identified as having the island’s credit ratings suffer three downgrades by international and regional ratings agencies, within a four week period ending December 20, 2013 and an IMF Article Four Consultation report calling for urgent and significant adjustments to our economic policies mix.

Another concern for the island’s employers in 2013 was the manner in which the Social Partnership functioned. Walcott noted that it was expected that the proposed mechanism of quarterly meetings of the full Social Partnership, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, would have been brought to bear as we sought to discuss the economic challenges facing the country.

“Regrettably, there was no regularity of such meetings. However, the subcommittee of the Social Partners typically met on a monthly basis under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development. The Confederation must at this point, express its grave concern that the recent matter of the proposed urgent redundancy of some 3,000 employees in the Public Sector was not brought before either the Subcommittee of the Social Partners, which normally meets monthly, or the Full Social Partnership, prior to its announcement on Friday, December 13, 2013.

“Such unilateral actions pose an inherent threat and danger to the fabric of the Social Partnership mechanism as such prior consultation on large-scale redundancies is specifically provided for in Protocol VI and the Employment Rights Act, 2012. We empathise with the concerns of the affected employees and are hopeful that a resolution can be found to ameliorate the anxiety now gripping those whose continued employment is now under further consideration,” he said while restating the BEC’s commitment to work in the context of the Social Partnership framework, in order to address the necessary restructuring of the economy in order to significantly reduce the cost to, while simultaneously growing the economy.

In looking to the future, Walcott suggested that the most significant national challenges to be addressed were the need to “[disseminate] a coherent, well-articulated set of growth strategies, especially for the Tourism, International Business and Manufacturing sectors; implement a structured short, medium and long-term set of strategic initiatives for the revitalization of our agriculture sector to ensure our food security, to limit dependence on external producers.

“[This is in addition to] reining in the burgeoning national debt; implementing tighter fiscal consolidation measures; implementing aggressive national strategies to restore fiscal discipline; becoming more efficient at business facilitation; encourage significant restraint in wage demands; and urgently addressing the requirements for greater labour flexibility.” (RG) 

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