A Guy’s View: Compassionate dismemberment

When the kite of 6 000 layoffs was flown, level headed observers immediately recognised that this figure was a straw man which was set up to be knocked down.

The strategy was to float a number that is much larger than what you know is intended, so that when the actual number is identified, you are able to say to the public that you are not willing to be as harsh as people have recommended. They wanted 6 000 heads but the actual layoffs would only be half of that number. This is not a novel trick.

A number of people were in discussion a few days ago trying to understand what is meant by compassionate dismissal. How do you compassionately dismiss a woman who has a mortgage, a car note to pay and children to send to school?

An attempt at compassionately dealing with reducing the national wage bill was pursued by the last administration. In the face of constant criticism and abuse, the approach adopted was to keep people in their jobs and delay filling posts when persons retired, coupled with asking all workers to be their brother’s and sister’s keeper and hold strain with respect to pay increases. This truly compassionate approach was slow to bear results and seemed ineffective. As a result, it opened the door for the greed of the unsuspecting to be manipulated.

That the wage bill was too high was never in issue. What is interesting is that persons could convince us that the wage bill could be reduced by creating the largest cabinet ever in the history of this country, along with supporting staff, and an almost immediate increase in salary for all of the above.

There was only one way to finance this – sending home the poor wage earners on whose backs all of these cabinet positions are built. If there is any compassion anywhere in this exercise, it certainly is not in relation to the thousands of civil servants who responded to the prompting of their unions and the leaders in the business community and voted to make themselves unemployed.

Of course, we will expect the blame game to continue – “we had to do it because of the acts of the previous administration”. It must be observed, however, that the previous administration had every opportunity to send home the thousands of workers that are now set to be fired, but refused to do so.

The then Opposition kept urging the last administration to cut Government expenditure, but steadfastly refused to say where that expenditure should be cut from. They knew that the only room for cutting was to cut the wage bill and workers.

Their collaborators in the private sector also kept urging the then Government to cut Government expenditure. To their credit, some of them were pointed enough to say that the wage bill must be cut, hence they were always for firing public workers.

In the face of the absence of money, the workers’ representatives were adamant that Government should increase wages and salaries by between 15 and as much as 23 per cent. No workers’ organisation in Barbados is led by persons with vacant brains. They too knew that any increase in wages and salaries as they were demanding would have to be immediately followed by significant cuts in the workforce. Put differently, common sense would indicate that the unions in Barbados knew that they were canvassing for their members to be fired from their jobs. It would be an amazing deficit in the ability to think if there are still union members in Barbados after these organisations realise their wish of fired workers and reduced members.

I thought a friend was joking when she said that during the period of the elections campaign, some of her colleagues said that they wanted an increase in salary and did not care who went home in order for them to receive it. In these circumstances, some in the public sector may be quite happy with this outcome, as long as they are not in the severed number.

What does the 5 per cent pay increase mean for a maid who works for $968.52 every two weeks? Her pay increase would be $48.43 to take her fortnightly pay to $1,016.95.

For a Receptionist at the bottom of the scale and working for $1,936.89 per month, her increase adds $96.84 to her monthly salary, the same as the maid who works in her office. She will now take home $2,033.73. The Receptionist at the top of the scale and working for $2,516.01 per month, gets an increase of $125.80. She would now be earning $2641.81.

Unfortunately, if they drive, they will pay more than their salary increase in the gas tax. And further, if they are fortunate enough to run a household and pay a water bill, the increase of $45 in that bill, regardless of water used, will add another withdrawal from their 5 percent. And less one forgets, as of October 1, the 1 percent levy styled as the Health Service Contribution should also make an application for support from that 5 per cent increase. These people are all worse off after the 5 percent pay increase than they were before.

The old people used to say that who the horse likes he licks. The members of the previous administration gave up a portion of their salary, 10 per cent, for a set period of time as a demonstration of solidarity with the workers who had to endure a long journey without an increase. They did not have to do it and, in my view, never should have done it.

When the agreed time of the sacrifice expired, the sacrificed amount was restored. Well who tell them do that! A huge hue and cry went up from the then Opposition and their choir. The impression was given that they were increasing their salaries when the rest of the country was holding strain. And in one of the more unfortunate exposures of our education system, people who went to school at tax payers’ expense bought it.

Now, three months after coming into office, in an environment in which the economy has not improved and when additional taxes are being placed on Barbadians, every member of the proportionately largest Cabinet in the world will now benefit from an increase in salary in the sum of $7 619. And there is silence in the land.

Is the private sector in a position to absorb the thousands that will be sent home from the public sector? Is the private sector willing to respond positively to the invitation of a Government Minister and increase the salaries of their workers in line with the increase given to public workers? When will the removed National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) be reflected in the price of goods and services?

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