An unfortunate case of being back at square one

It was a meeting that offered at least a glimmer of hope on a possible compromise among the social partners on the way forward for the island’s struggling economy, especially on the vexing issue of the 400 per cent increase in the National Social Responsibility Levy (NRSL) that was introduced in the Freundel Stuart administration’s austerity-laden May 30, 2017 Budget.

However, following eight hours of talks at the Hilton Barbados Resort last Friday that were broadcast live on national television, the much-anticipated meeting of the Social Partnership under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, only seems to have deepened the rift between Government on the one hand, and the private sector and trade union movement on the other, in relation to an acceptable economic solution.

Government clearly is not budging where the punitive increase in the NSRL is concerned, suggesting that there will be no review until the end of September. Mr Stuart is insisting again – and the trade unions are strongly denying – that there was an understanding reached between the two social partners at a June 23 meeting, to allow the tax measure to run until the end of September when its impact will assessed.

In fact, so incensed is Barbados Workers Union (BWU) General Secretary, Toni Moore, that Mr Stuart used his wrap-up address to repeat this version of events,  she stated that any confidence which the talks had generated was undone by the tone and tenor of the Prime Minister’s remarks which, she said, did not augur well for future negotiations.

“We have to make it plain that his statement that there is an agreement and a commitment of the unions to giving the NSRL a chance to work for a quarter, is totally untrue. The unions never made such an agreement,” said Moore, who indicated the BWU and the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Barbados Union of Teachers (BUT) and the Barbados Secondary Teachers Unions (BSTU) would meet to decide on a response, the possible nature of which there was no hint.

The four unions, which are agitating for the NRSL to be slashed by 50 per cent because of the hardships it has created for ordinary Barbadians, teamed up with the private sector on July 24 to stage a successful protest march against the 2017 budgetary measures. It brought some 20,000 persons, according to police estimates, on to the streets of Bridgetown.

Similar to the unions, the private sector too left the meeting unhappy. In comments afterwards, Chairman of the Barbados Private Sector Association (BPSA), Charles Herbert, expressed doubt that any real results will flow from the discussions. “We were very disappointed,” he said. In fact, as Mr Herbert sees it, the Government is playing for time and has no intention of adjusting the tax measures.

Clearly a deadlock has emerged which, along with signs of a further erosion of trust in the Stuart Government over its responses to some questions related to the economy, places the issue back at square one. It is an unfortunate turn of events, given the latest indications that the economy is having particular difficulty overcoming certain challenges, especially in relation to rebuilding its falling stock of foreign reserves.

Weighing in on the issue over the weekend, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur called the meeting an “abysmal failure” and declared that a “dangerous stalemate” now existed at the level of the Social Partnership which was established back in the early 1990s as a consultative forum to guide policymaking during a previous economic crisis. The deadlock also raises serious questions about the future of the social partnership, given the obvious mistrust.

Mr Stuart has made it clear that the only entity with legal responsibility for national policymaking is the Cabinet of Ministers. While this is indeed indisputable, the success of any government policy, nevertheless, ultimately requires the support and cooperation of other national stakeholders, especially the private sector and labour movement when that policy relates to the economy.

The current stand-off at the level of the Social Partnership is not in the country’s best interest as these unwelcome tensions can only serve to put the economy at further risk. The dispute requires urgent resolution. Recognizing this, will Government reach out in a spirit of compromise and goodwill to the aggrieved parties and seek to repair the strained relationships? Given the prevailing circumstances, we believe such a gesture is the right thing to do in the national interest.

8 Responses to An unfortunate case of being back at square one

  1. Itz Queen
    Itz Queen August 14, 2017 at 11:52 pm

    Y’all take long to realize that give wanna de meetings and that all he intended to give.up de ting ,but I don’t think de private sector gun go wanna back.wait to school open and shut down Barbados no buses on de road this time every thing shut down,

    Reply
  2. Itz Queen
    Itz Queen August 14, 2017 at 11:57 pm

    Ya know wa NSRL stand for NEVER SETTLE REGARD LESS .

    Reply
  3. John Everatt August 15, 2017 at 1:08 am

    The Prime Minister speaks about “legal responsibility” however at the end of the day these cabinet ministers are not really responsible legally. If they were then they could be taken to court for decisions that they are making however everyone knows that this can not happen. So are they really responsible?

    Reply
  4. Keen observer August 15, 2017 at 4:31 am

    Do not blame the government. Those who called for the meeting should have come with a well documented plan with credible alternatives. The private sector also need to explain how increases in prices are being seen on old stock.

    Reply
  5. Tony Webster August 15, 2017 at 7:10 am

    A general who meets, every God-Blessed Thursduh, with all his army, to create a battle-plan… says to his troops to “OK guys…as you were” …then chats about the weather and everything else…but omits to give clear instructions as to WHEN to march, WHERE to march, HOW to March, WHY to march, WHO to fire at…WHERE to place his big guns…and is as $hort on ammunition and critical $upplies as he he is on the actual battle-plan tactics…and keeps putting-off the start of the Big Battle (as Jesus will soon come and save him)…is likely to end up alone on a little rock in the South Atlantic , named St. Helena. I may have the name of the island wrong, and the name of that humilated french general keeps slipping me. Yes, how did you ever guess…as usual, I made this story up.

    Reply
  6. Carson C Cadogan August 15, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    The Govt. did very well at the meeting. The country now has a better understanding of the situation with regards to the economy of Barbados .

    We need more televised meetings like this.

    Reply
  7. Bajan boy August 15, 2017 at 10:41 pm

    When dogs grunt and pigs bark…

    Reply
  8. Nathaniel Samuels August 16, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Carson, what did the government do? Please remind me. Ensuring continued hardship on the people does not seem to be a reason to talk about doing good.

    Reply

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