Sunday, April 14, 2024

EDITORIAL: It’s imprudence


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FOR THE FIRST TIME since it submitted proposals to the Government for improved wages and salaries for public servants, the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) this week disclosed exactly what it is demanding – a retroactive 23 per cent raise.

To be more precise, the island’s largest labour union for Government employees wants the state to pay them an 18 per cent increase for the period 2010 to 2013 and a further five per cent to cover 2014 and 2015.

According to the union, their submission would cost the Treasury in the region of $180 million.

Interestingly, prior to the introduction of austerity measures that included no discussion on salary increases at the start of the decade, it was the norm for salary and wage negotiations to look ahead by two or three years.

Under “normal” circumstances, therefore, when the union disclosed its demands to the media on Wednesday evening, the country would have been listening to hear that it was its starting position for negotiations to cover 2016, 2017 and possibly 2018.

This would suggest, therefore, that the 23 per cent does not represent the final position on what the potential demand on the Treasury for improved pay for public servants will be.

The disclosure of the NUPW’s position must also have resulted in a heightened sense of public interest in what other public sector unions have put to Government. These would have included the powerful Barbados Workers’ Union, which has also made it clear it wants to get discussions with Government’s negotiators going, the Barbados Union of Teachers and the Barbados Secondary Teachers’ Union – both of which are already at loggerheads with the state.

We suspect that for the next few weeks there will be discussions by experts, the ordinary man in the street and the politically aligned about whether the union’s demand is reasonable or practical, but at this moment we will avoid the urge to start that ball rolling.

What is of interest to us is the hope that those who rule the country will somehow come to understand that imprudent thoughts, talk and action can do tremendous harm to their relationship with citizens – even though it might be unintended.

Yes, the demands of the various unions pre-dated last week’s Opposition Barbados Labour Party no-confidence motion in the Democratic Labour Party Government. But it would take the world’s best political spin doctors to convince the country that the decision by the Dems to restore the ten per cent of their salary they gave up in 2014 in solidarity with workers who were sacrificed to save the economy has not galvanised the unions to act now.

It is pig-headedness and insensitivity at its height – imprudence personified – by a set of supposedly intelligent people that served only to invite unnecessary agitation when they should be consolidating the gains they have been trying to convince everyone they have made over the last year.

How could intelligent people not have realised that such a decision would have angered the thousands who have not had a salary increase for five years and who endured it literally without complaining? How could they not have known that the thousands of public servants who were sent home, and those who represented them in the labour movement, would have been upset?

However difficult the talks turn out to be, and whatever negative fallout there is from it, this Government has only itself to blame.

Surely, those who gather at George Street each week to discuss their fortunes must know that issues such as no pay increase for five years, a poor water distribution system that has put thousands of residents back to where they were in the 1960s and 70s, roads that are falling into an unacceptable state of disrepair, a housing programme with more holes in it than the most derelict property on the island, a Queen Elizabeth Hospital that is a shadow of its former self, an agricultural sector that is just short of an embarrassment, and a Central Bank that has lost all of its credibility have all contributed to a dissatisfied population.

How then could they have been so blind as to compound it with a totally unnecessary move like this? Surely, the gain of ten per cent for such well paid servants of the people could not be worth the fallout. Or could it?


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