TWENTY-FIFTEEN was another very challenging year for most employers in Barbados. As we come to the close of the year, it is useful for us to take look back at 2015 and use any lessons derived therefrom to chart our path for 2015 and beyond.
The Barbados Employers’ Confederation continued its growth in membership numbers and the range of services offered during 2015, and special mention is to be made of the work done in technical vocational education training and accessing and providing training under the Competency-Based Training Fund manadate.
The very slim parliamentary majority now enjoyed by the governing party has, in our opinion, limited the options available to the Government to engage in significant parliamentary debate; recent events which have seen two former members of the Opposition now taking their seats in Parliament as independent candidates can have a significant bearing on the balance of the discussions in Parliament.
The major economic concerns continued to be the expansion of the national debt and associated debt service requirements, and the urgent need for tighter fiscal consoliation. These had been identified as far back as 2010 as being the areas most likely to present a drag on economic activity, unless major corrective action was taken.
Even as the economies of the major trading partners have been showing sustained signs of recovery since 2009, our local economic performance continued to be anaemic.
However, it is to be noted that in the final quarter of 2014, signs emerged of an improvement in visitor arrivals from the major source markets of United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), and this trend continued into 2015.
Unemployment statistics reflected a continued high level of around 12 per cent, the major concern being youth unemployment.
As we close off 2015, we have had the announcement of major investments in the tourism sector scheduled to start construction in 2016 and it is hoped these will bring some relief to the construction sector with its attendant spin-off spending.
During 2015, it was expected that the proposed mechanism of quarterly meetings of the full Social Partnership, under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister, would have been brought to bear as we sought to discuss the economic challenges facing us; regrettably, there was no regularity of such meetings; only one such meeting was held on July 31.
Unfortunately, the subcommittee of the Social Partnership, which typically met on a monthly basis under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development in previous years, had the number of meetings actually called significantly reduced for various reasons.
The confederation must at this point express the hope that the announced rationalisations to take place across several statutory corporations are brought before a full Social Partnership meeting before any decisions are taken on the new structures to be put in place and consequent redundancies.
The confederation, however, restates its commitment to work in the context of the Social Partnership framework as we collectively seek to address the necessary restructuring of the country’s economic model with a view to significantly reduce the cost to the Government, while simultaneously growing the economy.
As we move into 2016 with the spectre of a slowing world economy, the most significant challenges to be addressed are the need to: promulgate a coherent, well articulated set of growth strategies, especially for the tourism, international business and manufacturing sectors; implement a structured short, medium, and long term set of strategic initiatives for the revitalisation of our agriculture sector to ensure our food security, to limit dependence on external producers. Rein in the burgeoning national debt; implement tighter fiscal consoldiation measures; implement aggressive national strategies to restore fiscal discipline; become more efficient at business facilitation; encourage significant restraint in wage demands; and urgently address the requirements for greater labour flexibility.
Current world economic outlook and forecasts suggest that while the US and the UK are recorded sustained recovery, it is unlikely that Barbados’ other major trading partners in the Eurozone will reflect sustained economic recovery for another 18 to 24 months.
This can have significant negative impacts on our key foreign exchange earnings sectors of tourism and international financial services. Foreign direct investment inflows are expected to continue at relatively low levels, further compounding our foreign exchnage receipts challenges.
While the outlook remains very challenging, we must approach the coming year with confidence in our own abilities to be the change we want to see!
Innovation has to be a key pillar in our strategies as the environment around us evolves rapidly and it will be no longer “business as usual”. We must make greater use of and embrace the rapidly changing information and communications technologies.
At the level of the business organisation, greater emphasis needs to be placed on: improving individual and corporate efficiency and productivity, enhancing or international, regional and local competitiveness, being innovative in problem resolution, identifying and developing new opportunities to grow economic activity and job creation, and working smarter!
To support the foregoing needs, the confederation offers a menu of services and support facilities which include, but are not limited to, training interventions, risk assessments/audits, human resource (HR) audits, and HR support services. The confederation’s membership represents employers in all economic sectors from large conglomerates to small and micro enterprises and we look forward to working with you in 2016 and beyond as we seek to support your efforts to get your organisations ready for the inevitable changes that lie ahead.
The confederation’s continued participation in and contribution to dialogue at the national level with a view to the revitalisation and restructuring of our economy, will guide or advocacy responsibilities in the years ahead.
We must not fear change, but embrace it as necessary for our long term survival and prosperity. We must adopt a “can do” attitude; nothing is impossible!