Economist warns of the ill effects of public sector sick out

With a public sector sick out currently in effect, a local economist today warned that the industrial unrest, ordered by this island’s major trade unions at the height of a taxation row with the Freundel Stuart Government, could have a devastating impact on the island’s already low foreign exchange reserves.

University of the West Indies lecturer Jeremy Stephen also told Barbados TODAY that while he agreed that labour unions must represent their workers “to the fullest”, they should bear in mind “the real issues”, which include how can Government lower its debt, raise revenues and help to spur economic growth and improve productivity in the public sector.

The island’s four major public sector unions – the National Union of Public Workers, the Barbados Workers’ Union, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union — today embarked on a two-day sick out, with a view to getting Government to either lower its National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) from ten per cent or to grant public servants tax relief by way of a coping subsidy.

However, so far Government has been refusing to budge on either proposal.

It has also been dragging its feet on negotiations with the unions for a pay increase for the workers with Stephen stating today that he did not see public servants getting a wage increase in any hurry.

However, he suggested that with Crop Over season currently in high gear, now was as good a time as any for the unions to get Government to sit up and take notice of their demands.

“Around this time [of year] it should really make Government accede to the unions’ demands, but I worry personally that a lot of us still are taking our eyes off the ball, both on the side of Government and on the side of the unions and the general private sector,” he said.

“The issue now [is] we need to handle Government debt, which is linked inextricably to productivity of workers within the sector, which is linked inextricably to our private sector; and the interest costs that have been bundling up and now representing the second highest cost to Government and has the ability in years to come to even be higher. That can end up stymieing any hopes of unions being able to negotiate successfully,” he cautioned.

“So I think that even if you agitate at this time, in the background somehow it should be clear to people that the unions at least are very cognizant of what the real issue is and therefore it would make more sense to continue to educate their workers as to the real issues, while still trying to agitate.

“When I say educate, I mean talk about issues other than wages and issues pertaining to wages directly,” the economist explained.

While Stephen was not in a position to say how much the country stood to lose by way of foreign exchange as a result of any protest action, he maintained that any shutdown of the country by public sector employees had the potential to definitely affect foreign exchange inflows.

“If they actually have another round of serious sick outs leading up to August 7 [the Crop Over climax], when you definitely would have a lot of people that spend precious US dollars in this economy – especially given the weeks of imports having fallen to [just over] ten weeks – you can expect that it will be a little more tight. The amount of US dollars circulating in the economy and also economic activity for the season would be underwhelming. That is the direct effect,” he said.

The economist, who last month described the NSRL measure as a regressive one, said he expected prices to “really balloon” in the coming months, while warning that the knock-on effects could be such that Barbadians would cut back on their spending, which would then result in loss of revenue for both businesses and Government and ultimately the loss of employment.

In response to a recent suggestion that seek to fix its Value Added Tax system instead of going the route of the NSRL, Stephen said such a suggestion was better in “theory”. However, he further cautioned that the Stuart Government was caught between a rock and a hard place with one of its major problems being cash flow.

“[It then] becomes a question of how do you fix that, while, if you chose to, putting the NSRL at a lower rate because the NSRL itself has the potential to be a very good cash flow item for Government, while not considering how regressive it is.

“VAT on the other hand is not as good given the high amount they [Government] owe on VAT returns”.

36 Responses to Economist warns of the ill effects of public sector sick out

  1. joan Worrell July 19, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    Anybody who talks about up we ting, can’t be educated. How then do you expect them to educate their followers on anything. They can’t tell their members what is the alternative to printing money to pay them. Let them shut down the island and the tax will be reversed. What a silly bunch!

  2. John Everatt July 20, 2017 at 1:10 am

    As Mr Stephan has said, the unions need to educate their members. This means telling them that in the real world wage increases depend on production and efficiency. This government has got itself deep in the hole because they really had no money with which to pay employees so they printed it. This went on for a long time. So instead of facing up to reality and cutting expenses they took the easy way out. However, as they all knew this could not go on forever and they have now come to the point where the money has run out and there is still no production. So they want to add more taxes instead of cutting expenses. Problem is, people don’t have the money to contribute more to the revenue of this government. So if you are willing to work an honest day for a day’s wage and increase production then perhaps you can earn more money.

  3. ricardo July 20, 2017 at 3:41 am

    From the time I heard that foolish phrase I dismissed the unions. How can big people use such an idiotic phrase and feel anyone would take them seriously?

  4. jrsmith July 20, 2017 at 5:26 am

    All of these experts the world over seems to have lost sight of the same issue, scared of directly challenging the failing crooked politicians , who works for the interest of a certain group in our nation and totally neglecting the mass of the population…………..
    As I said before local people should ask the question , why they allow the politicians to do , what they like , when they like as they like and is never challenged……………………But the local people is waiting to attack the unions and they members…………………
    Again I say, loose the unions in Barbados and thats it for … The unions is saving Barbados from that direct control the politicians
    is pushing for …. democracy isn’t only freedom of speech ……….
    When last anyone from the government was on local (TV) addressing the black masses, who are the voters in barbados as to why they cant (Manage Barbados LTD) because the government is not (Accountable) to the masses ,……………. Why after 50 years of (Independence Dependency ) 1% of our nation control the country ……….
    Our country can do a lot better , but its as though this government was put in place , to destroy barbados its as though a …………black nation of people is …hypnotize…………. scared , frighten to stand up for our rights to be treated as full citizens of our country, which is all being sold off to the highest bidder……
    ……………………….People stop attacking the unions its the only thing left of our barbados………………………………….

    • Sunshine Sunny Shine July 20, 2017 at 11:36 am

      Finally, a comment that makes a whole lot of sense. Well stated Jrsmith. Those persons who seem to think otherwise about the Union should pay particular attention to the way that politicians on both sides of the political divide have been governing the country. There is no accountability or transparency on the part of this government or the one that went before. Someone has to hold them accountable.

  5. Saga Boy July 20, 2017 at 6:09 am

    JR you seem to know a lot about crooked politicians. You are pure emotion and lack objectivity. Take a deep breath and look around the Caribbean and the world. Just in case you missed it, let me remind you that we are part of the world system. Economies all over the world are experiencing what Barbados is facing. The UK with many more economists has not given public servants salary increases for over 9 years; Tdad is in its second year of recession; unemployment in most other Caribbean islands except Tdad twice as high as BIM. In St.Kitts where GDP is around 3.5 it is because of them selling citizenship. Now what is your solution other that all the stakeholders working together for he good of this country. This is not only a BLP country, it is also a DLP country. There are times therefore that we have to put country first.

  6. Rechelle July 20, 2017 at 7:11 am

    Saga Boy, we need to get the rid of DLP mis-management first.

  7. John king July 20, 2017 at 7:22 am

    Jeremy is an economist and his primary view is about balancing a budget.
    He does not care about the rights of the individual and the workers that are being trampled on. who are being forced to interact with market forces which themselves did not create.

    what more education do workers need? when they are only seen as having no worth!

    In applying the utilitarian principle to his (J) economic perspective I can only arrive at the point where Humans in Jeremy’s terms have no value as people and are to be treated as mere workers in a capitalist society for the benefit of the ruling Classes.
    Not only a sick out they are not suppose to exercise in an established democracy in attempt too secure their values?

    give me a break.

    No sick out can hurt an economy in it present state it can only bring people to their senses

  8. John king July 20, 2017 at 7:34 am

    Furthermore, It may take a political scientist to fully understand the rudiments of Economic poli-trickians.

    (legal – begal king)

  9. Lee Farnum-Badley July 20, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Diversify agriculture, increase tourism and exports, earn buckets of foreign exchange, cut crime, go slow, promote staycation, reduce classism and make everyone happy . . . . ? Easy,
    Just legalize the growth and use of recreational marijuana !!

  10. joan Worrell July 20, 2017 at 8:14 am

    @ John King

    I hope you are not the BLP candidate for the St. Philip riding. If you are, then I suggest that you take your time and read Jeremy”s article before commenting again here or on a political platform. Are you still living in the 20th century? Has your party offered an alternative for the unions to run with? Upping de ting is not the answer. That is bashment soca not serious political or industrial relations commentary.Then again what should one expect after reading the following excerpts are taken from article headlined ”Unions praised for ‘upping de thing’ on Government
    Added by Neville Clarke on July 13, 2017.
    Saved under Local News”

    (1) However, Belle said the march should be viewed as part of a continuum, while recalling that during yesterday’s event BWU General Secretary Toni Moore and NUPW President Akanni McDowall could be heard saying: “Up de thing”.
    (2) While throwing his support behind yesterday’s march by the trade unions, political scientist and pollster Peter Wickham suggested that the trade unions might have to bring the country to a total standstill for Stuart to realize that there was a problem.
    (3) “I do not have a difficulty with a total standstill of the country. I have no problem with a 48-hour ultimatum. I think it will become necessary for the unions to go to the next step. The 48-hour ultimatum would not mean anything to Stuart,” Wickham cautioned.
    (4) Meanwhile, veteran trade unionist Caswell Franklyn contended that 48 hours was too much time, while arguing that it was high time the unions took a stand, with a view to getting rid of the current Government.
    “The unions should have had this country shut down until the Government goes,” Franklyn, who is general secretary of the Unity Workers Union, told

  11. joan Worrell July 20, 2017 at 8:17 am

    above should ”read excerpts taken from” etc. etc.

  12. John king July 20, 2017 at 8:30 am


    I am apolitical. if you don’t know what that is look in the dictionary.

    I do not support any political party. I take part in social commentary. Note the issue I commented on carefully before you run your mouth in accusations.

  13. joan worrell July 20, 2017 at 8:59 am

    In other words you are the political John King and I beg you to read and comprehend Jeremy’s article before commenting again.

  14. Ossie Moore July 20, 2017 at 9:57 am

    A brand new Haiti but by the lessor poorer! If the nonsense continues!

  15. F.A.Rudder July 20, 2017 at 10:13 am

    I guess all of those Mr GQs and want to be Rianna’s can stomach wearing “hand me downs” sent from the USA and Canada because that’s just what will go down if Barbadians continue their little selfish act and decide to pull off a more than burdensome stunt of going slow and general striking in this modern global society. It was good yesteryear but not in this new world economy! Choose the right person for the right job and stop the partisan act with your micro and macro economics. Two major expenditures need to be reduced by 33% and they are Fossil Fuels and food imports they are the major foreign exchange exterminators!

  16. Waiting July 20, 2017 at 10:19 am

    The Unions may not be doing everything right but long live the unions. I hope the day will never come when there are none of them around for then we will see hell. No raises for 20 years if you think that this is bad even when the economy is good. Concerning advising this government, is a waste of time so let us just swim with the tide and hope we don’t sink.

  17. Breadfruit. July 20, 2017 at 10:40 am

    @ joan

    The alternate to printing money is to lay off some of the public workers.

    The unions already agree to a 5% increase, so DEM don’t have have to lay off the full amount – they can lay off half the amount.

    Wha the government doing by PRINTING $S TO KEEP EVUHONE EMPLOYED is infact BUYING A FEW THOUSANDS VOTES tax payers $S

    De whole damned country got to suffer cause DEM don’t want do de correct ting just to get a few moh votes.

  18. Breadfruit. July 20, 2017 at 10:41 am

    using tax payers $S

  19. Breadfruit. July 20, 2017 at 11:00 am

    The union compromised where is the compromise from government?

  20. joan Worrell July 20, 2017 at 11:23 am

    There is nothing to compromise on. Money must be found to pay the oversized public service created by both parties. Barbados has more security guards than Russia. I went through the airport couple weeks ago two security guards were directing passengers to the departure lounge. What a monumental waste of money. It is either NSRL or go home. The former Central Bank Governor advocates trimming the service down to size. The Government can’t continue printing money to pay them. Full stop.

  21. Breadfruit. July 20, 2017 at 11:41 am

    @ joan

    You read my earlier statements?

  22. Breadfruit. July 20, 2017 at 12:02 pm

    yuh don’t know what you for or against and yuh aint in de middle of d road

    Yuh for NRSL to pay de workers. Yet yuh saying government wasting money paying the oversize public service.

    can read wha u write but cant mek sence of all d cackling!!

  23. John king July 20, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    yea . breadfruit I agree with you Joan makes all a we cackle by jumping here and there. using wrong evidence. we need security guards to watch people like her.

    we licks too hot

  24. John king July 20, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    @Joan I read the article and if I borrow your eyes I would not see your point

  25. John king July 20, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    yea saga B

    country first by upping the thing

  26. Realist July 20, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Since Mr. Stephen cannot state how much the country loses from the impact of the “sick out” on Barbados’ economy; cannot state so many things but still wants to talk, he should do the research and submit it for his Ph.D dissertation. Shut up before you don’t lose your job too. Let the unions do what they have to do and you do what you have to do. Sometimes you have to tear down before you rebuild.

  27. BaJan boy July 20, 2017 at 4:46 pm

    If there are any bajans more iliterate than the Joan Worrell please stand up. She is as ignorant as they come poor soul…

  28. Lorenzo July 20, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Joan Worrell pretends to be an expert on every topic but she is just an ignorant DLP yardfowl who has no claim to fame in any field but yardfowlism along with Saga Boy,CCC GreenGiant ,Antionette Sealy and a few others.They care about no one except DLP.Hope they are being paid well because this is their last mas.

  29. joan worrell July 20, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    The BLP sheep bleats again.

  30. Breadfruit. July 20, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    @ joan
    Wha you for? de levy or reducing de ovuhsized public service?
    yuh said it one or de other. which one you fuh?

  31. joan worrell July 20, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    Rubbing shoulders failed. Marches failed. Strikes are failing. What else are you going to try to bring down the Government. The workers at the port and the Transport Board have defied the union orders and have returned to work. Sanitation workers are supposed to be on a go-slow but other workers from across Barbados are doing their work. More egg in your faces. Well said Mr. Stevens. Well said Eddy Abed. Stand your ground Mr. Prime Minister. This will be the end of the BWU and no hope of the BLP winning the Government.

  32. joan worrell July 20, 2017 at 7:26 pm


    You could tell or ask me anything and I enjoy responding.

    I responded to your query earlier but my comments awaited moderation for over an hour and finally deleted. Never let it be said that I run away from a debate. The majority of members in the House of Assembly voted for the increase in NSRL. It is law. It cannot and will not be reversed by the four unions. Yes I support it to pay the oversized public service which both parties must be held responsible for the numbers getting out of hand. However if I had my way I would get rid of half of them but the Government decides to keep them and the only way they can do it , is to increase the taxes.

  33. joan worrell July 20, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    By the way Breadfruits, can you please buy Lorenzo a new outfit? Every day he wears a red T-shirt with ”Tings dread, wear red, vote BLP” printd on the back and front of the shirt. The pair of old pumps have seen better days and he still calling people DLP yardfowls. Cud dear, the closest thing to him is a a ram sheep.

  34. Breadfruit. July 20, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    @ joan

    I still don’t know wha you stand fuh
    you moh politician than de real politicians.

    I don’t want hear bout wha de politician or de unions do or aint do. I wanta kno whe joan stand fuh.

    Red shirt is de best shirt to wear.

  35. joan worrell July 20, 2017 at 11:02 pm

    I stand for honesty , integrity , decency, cleanliness, healthy life style and an exemplary family relationship to name a few. It doesn’t matter to me what you stand for.


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