Employers issue pay warning to unions

The umbrella Barbados Employers Confederation (BEC) is questioning the timing of a request by local trade unions for a public sector wage hike.

BEC Executive Director Tony Walcott said while there was some merit to the request for a pay increase for Government workers, one of the key considerations must be the Government’s ability to pay, given the country’s less than favourable fiscal position.

Since last year, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), which represents the majority of this island’s civil servants, has been pressing for a 23 per cent wage hike for Government workers, arguing that its members have not enjoyed a pay rise since 2008, despite rising cost of living. The Barbados Workers Union (BWU) has also been demanding a 15 per cent pay increase for its members, but to date the Freundel Stuart administration has not budged on either request.

Weighing in on the matter today during a press conference at the BEC’s Deighton Road, Brittons Hill office, Walcott acknowledged that “nine years without a wage increase is a considerable period of time”.

However, with the economy already on its knees as a result of dwindling foreign exchange reserves which fell precariously from $1.4 billion in 2012 to $681 million by the end of last year, while Government struggles to service its already high debt of over 100 per cent of gross domestic product, the BEC spokesman said: “My question would be, ‘based on Government’s current finances, is there an ability to pay at the level being asked by the unions?’”

Recently, NUPW President Akanni McDowall pledged that there would be no letting up on the union’s demand for a double-digit salary increase, despite utterances from Government of a still bruised economy.

He has also been strongly supported by BWU General Secretary Toni Moore in arguing that Government’s decision earlier this year to restore the ten per cent taken from the salaries of parliamentarians and other senior Government officers back in 2014, was a clear indication that the Freundel Stuart administration was in a position to meet the union’s demands.

“Public servants for almost a decade now have not received a salary increase but what makes this situation more unpalatable is that public servants will be asked to accept further wage restraint and brace themselves for some bitter pills all in the name of responsibility when at the same time the leaders in Government put back on a ten per cent [on their salaries], which was taken off as a show of identifying with the people, a show of bearing pain as the people have been bearing,” Moore said in a fiery address delivered during last week’s Labour Day rally.

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