Union slams planned retrenchment as 'attack on women'

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is describing as an attack on women, the decision of the Barbados Government to send home clerks, typists and stenographers as part of the 1,500 public workers to be dismissed over the next few weeks in an effort to turn around an ailing economy.

NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith told reporters that most of the people employed in those posts are women and it is not right to send them home.

“…One hundred per cent of those persons are women. These women are single parents, breadwinners for their families. This is an attack on women in the workforce; this is a gender issue,” she said, adding, “what nonsense is that, something wrong”.

Smith said those posts were among the ones being abolished and further discussion was needed, and not at the level of the Social Partnership. She called on Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley to give more details regarding the planned lay-offs.

“The prime minister rightly said that we understand lay-offs, we have been through it and I think were we [are] in the position to really sit and go through what we are going through now with workers, we would have been in a better position to advise the Government,” Smith said.

She urged the Mottley Administration to weigh the pros and the cons in all decisions to be made, adding “it is not always good to be rushing.

“You just cannot hand the union your decision and say, 'That's it'. I maintain that we should always have a place within the collective bargaining unit. I don't want anyone to go sidelining the NUPW.”

The NUPW said that 800 workers in the public sector would be retrenched and that the meeting with union members on Monday night was very cordial with workers facing retrenchment worried about their future.

The union has pledged to do all it can to ensure its members get a fair deal.

“We are looking at approximately 800 workers from among the public service that are going to be impacted by these measures. We do not at this time have any information on the other phases… the information that has been shared with us is on phase one,” NUPW President Akanni McDowall said.

He described the process as being a “difficult one that is going to impact each of us differently”, noting that the union is also concerned about workers who are being sent home.

“None of us don't really want to see any worker being put on the breadline. Although we understand that this is a difficult situation, we have to make sure that we manage it in the best possible way because workers are really depending on us.

He said not everyone would be in agreement with the process “but what we can do from the union is to make sure that we put measures in place to make sure our members are as comfortable as possible”.

Prime Minister Mottley, in a radio and television broadcast on Sunday night, said that the job cuts will affect workers in central government and government entities.

“We give the country the assurance that while we do not have the exact number because we are following process, rather than arithmetical deductions; we know that it is unlikely to be more than 1,500 people over the course of the next few weeks. But, regrettably, one is too many,” she said, while detailing a wide-ranging plan to cushion the fallout.

Prime Minister Mottley, whose Barbados Labour Party came to power in the May general election this year, acknowledged that it was a painful exercise her Administration has embarked upon, but added that the lay-offs would be underpinned by the last in, first out principle and workers are in line to receive full packages.

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has called on the Government to state publicly the successes it has so far achieved under the much-touted economic recovery plan.

“The government has been talking much about the problems inherited [from the previous Democratic Labour Party administration] in an effort to justify their actions. But they have said little to suggest that they are about scoring any growth successes,” he said in a statement following Prime Minister Mottley's broadcast.

While he commended Mottley for speaking out on the matter, he said, “it [has been] less than appropriate to delegate the delivery of major statements and comments to economic advisers Dr Avinash Persaud, Dr Clyde Mascoll and Kevin Greenidge.

“No matter how involved in the process, this responsibility of major pronouncements should never have been delegated to them rather than our elected and appointed principals,” Atherley said, noting that he does not believe Barbadians are yet fully aware of the seriousness of the economic challenges.

“A US$290-million International Monetary Fund approval loan on 220 per cent of quota is said by the prime minister to send a strong positive message to the investment community and other international lending institutions. However, it is more fully the truth that the failure of Barbados to access the value amounts nearer to 43 per cent of its quota signals the IMF's opinion that our economic position is extraordinarily poor,” Atherley said.

He said the IMF's insistence on a six-per cent primary surplus and the setting of their financial assistance in the context of a four-year Extended Fund Facility, was “further testament to their dismal view of our state of economic health”.

Atherley also questioned why domestic investors had not been consulted on the government's debt restructuring plans before they were rolled out.

“Local instruments holders were left without a real choice in the absence of legal recourse. In an undeveloped capital market such as ours, what options remain for potential investors if there is no credible appeal of Government offering after this bad experience?”

Regarding the planned lay-off of workers, the Opposition leader called for clarity on the numbers, and queried how Government would honour its promise of allocating 20 per cent of its purchases to small operators.

“We heard government voices making reference to 'no more than 4,000'. Then we heard '900 to 1,000'. Now we are hearing about 1,500. Is this 1,500 the ultimate number or simply the first of three waves of lay-offs? 'Two years of hope' beyond lay-off time and by way of digitisation and involvement of low-level agriculture are both nebulous and unappealing.

“These lay-offs not only come at Christmas but at a time of increased water bills, health service levy, fuel charges, and the inevitable bus fare hikes. Twenty per cent of procurement as an affirmative action initiative is also not a sufficiently certain alternative for retrenched lower level public service employees without capital or political connections.”

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