If we must

Amidst concern from the trade union movement about private sector layoffs, Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA) Alex McDonald has defended merchants, saying they were holding on to staff for as long
as possible.

Last weekend General Secretary of the Barbados Workers Union (BWU) Toni Moore expressed concern about layoffs within the private sector as she noted that only last Friday a local firm had issued termination letters to almost a dozen workers.

This came on the heels of a recent announcement by the St Lucy-based Arawak Cement Company Limited that it would sever 40 workers from October – representing 20 per cent of the company’s workforce – as part of a restructuring programme to prevent the plant from going under.

However, McDonald told Barbados TODAY that private sector operators were only laying off workers when they had no choice as they continued to operate against a background of weakened commerce.

BPSA President Alex McDonald
BPSA President Alex McDonald

“The union is pointing to what they see as an issue. What I see is that private sector people are trying to hold on to people for as long as they can and sending home only people when it is absolutely necessary,” said McDonald.

“So what can appear to be a sinister ploy may ultimately turn out to be an altruistic move, which is trying to say ‘look, I am trying to send home as few people as I can when I have to’ as oppose to saying ‘well, I am going to send home 40 or ten’,” explained McDonald.

Pointing out that this was generally the conversation among the small and medium sized establishments which make up majority of the commerce on the island, McDonald said a number of business operators who reluctantly laid off workers would call them back once there was an improvement in business.

“But it is very tough. If people are not spending then it is very tough to hold on to staff,” he said.

Recently Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer reminded the private sector that layoffs should be a last resort.

She said while she understood that some businesses would have a need to layoff workers, she was advising that is should only be a last resort after all other avenues had been explored.

“We cannot tell a businessperson what they have to do in order to make a profit. They are in business to make a profit and we would be naïve to think that they are here in business for any other reason, and they have to make adjustments to ensure that they do that,” Byer said then.

McDonald said while private sector operators were still assessing their performance during the summer period, he was certain it was a mixed bag for them.

“We do know that for many people this summer was a bit slower than normal, for others it was on par and yet for others it was better. But this is the normal course of business,” he said.

McDonald said he was trying to gauge the level of business and not necessarily how busy the businesses appeared to be, explaining that a number of merchants had to introduce “alternative pricing structures” which are less profitable but to maintain cash flow.

He said while he awaited a full analysis of the performance of the business sector during the summer period, McDonald said he was hoping for “an outstanding winter”.  

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