BES: A strike would be costly

President of the Barbados Economic Society (BES) Jeremy Stephen is pleading with the state-run Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) to resolve their current industrial dispute for the sake of the country’s fragile economy.

Protest action taken by NUPW and BWU executive members and union members earlier this month.

The two sides had been deadlocked in a bitter impasse over the recent dismissal of 13 BIDC workers, including ten who are over age 60, with the NUPW, which had received the full backing of the Barbados Workers’ Union, threatening to escalate its protests into a national shutdown if the workers were not reinstated. However, Stephen said while he respected unions’ right to protest, “the main thing is to ensure that the wider public of Barbados isn’t negatively affected”, while warning that a national shutdown at this time would only result in days of loss revenues and undermine what little confidence creditors still had in the economy.

Jeremy Stephen
President of the Barbados Economic Society (BES), Jeremy Stephen

“We know that for a while it has been a very terse and uncomfortable environment for all workers – public and private sector – and we understand the need for agitating for the rights of worker no matter what sector they are involved in,” Stephen told reporters.

However, “what we do not want to see is that the situation rapidly descends into a contrite case where Government and the union do not want to bring this to some resolution, because that is the image that is being portrayed out there; one of agitation for agitation sake. So we do wish a speedy resolution to this issue,” he added.

While pointing out that this week’s NUPW-led strike stood to have a negative social impact, the BEC head also called on the Government to take a leaf out of the United States’ book and try to quickly resolve the industrial dispute in order to avoid far reaching consequences.

“The fact is that innocent bystanders then become mentally affected. Our society really runs on confidence right now. We don’t really have much other than us believing in the power of not just our currency, but that things will work somehow. If it is that you have a national shutdown that is the biggest crack in the armour any Government or economy can really experience,” he warned.

“If workers come out from across all sectors [for a national strike], that’s a couple loss days of revenue and I mean we have falling GDP, despite what the official statistic says. So it would be a very, very hard task for the economy to really see this over, especially if there is no end in sight,” said Stephen, while stressing the need for a speedy resolution.

He said given the less than favourable economic conditions and the need for Government to cut expenditure and correct inefficiencies within the public sector, he suspected it might have to do more layoffs.

However, he cautioned, such actions should first be clearly and truthfully articulated.

“We have to draw a resolution rather quickly. Whether the NUPW and their constituents come out the victors in this case, it matters little to me, and I think matters little to the wider scheme of things,” said Stephen.

“We all know we have cash issues, and we all know that we need to make certain cuts, and we all know that the cost of debt is rising . . . I don’t see the situation changing and it will become a little more contentious unless both parties are fully honest with each other and reach a resolution, which will be painful for both sides, unfortunately,” said Stephen, adding, “ We have gone on too long trying to hide and dilly-dally”.

“So the situation is terse. The BIDC needed to make the cuts. Maybe they could have gone about it a different way, but maybe it was easier to just ask persons near retirement age to go.

He also noted that from the workers’ standpoint, “people have mortgages to keep up and certain costs that they must maintain.

“So as far as BES is concerned, and as far as I am concerned as well, we need a speedy resolution with all the truth on the table because the situation would get worse before it can get nearly even better,” he said.

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