Public sector redundancies: ‘A kinder cut’?

Union leaders will be somewhat relieved to hear the news that, according to the Honourable Prime Minister, Miss Mia Amor Mottley, there will be no large scale job cuts in the public sector – headline in The Barbados Advocate for Saturday, July 28.

We say “somewhat relieved” however, because, according to the Prime Minister, there will indeed be some cuts in the sector, although she promised that these will be effected with the surgical finesse of a scalpel rather than with the savagery of the cutlass that she imputed was used by the previous administration to retrench some 3 000 public servants on an earlier occasion.

She also commented on the depth of any cuts, naturally less if done by a scalpel, suggesting that they will not approach the 6 000 that she incorrectly ascribed as having been suggested by the former Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados, Dr De Lisle Worrell. In fact, to our best recollection, he had hazarded a figure of4 500 only.

To be blunt, the current administration, with its bloated Cabinet and governance structure in general, has scant moral authority to complain of excess labour. The Honourable Prime Minister appears to recognise this. According to the report of her contribution to the debate on the Bill to amend the Central Bank of Barbados Act, she, as leader of the government, and her administration are more concerned with “reviewing the purpose and structure of government and how best it can deliver on its mandate, while at the same time protecting the people as far as possible”.

Of course, much of the current political discourse is to be understood in the context of an imminent signing of a letter of intent with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a circumstance that might yet result in some reform of our anticipated fiscal options. In this light, pronouncements such as the resumption of taxpayer-funded state provided tertiary education and the minimalist retrenchment in the public sector may be up for scrutiny in any IMF programme that might be instituted. What we consider these initiatives to be therefore are indications that the Government is prepared to maintain these civic entitlements unless persuaded otherwise.

In the report, Miss Mottley chose to describe as an “economic holocaust” the management of the economy by the previous administration; referring to the magnitude of the debt owed to the local Central Bank ($2.2 bn. at the end of its tenure in May) and the absence of any physical evidence to justify such indebtedness.

The existing configuration of the House of Assembly meant that there was no member of that administration to offer a defence or even an explanation and, predictably, none was forthcoming from the individual Leader of the Opposition, Bishop Joseph Atherley who, to the contrary, appeared to share the views of the governing administration on the matter, asserting that the “fiscal gymnastics”, as he chose to describe them, of the previous administration bore witness to a government involved in the business of over inflating projections on revenue and under-projecting with respect to expenditure.

That there will be a reduction in the number of public officers is by now beyond dispute. All that remains to be determined is the manner in which that process will be implemented. The Employment Rights Act, that does not bind the Government, provides a mode for effecting retrenchment in the private sector. There appears to be no reason why this procedure that involves social dialogue with the representative workers’ organisations should not be adhered to as best industrial relations practice.

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