Barbados may face massive job losses

Barbados Finance Minister Chris Sinckler.
Photo by George Alleyne

The anxiety began since an Aug. 13 budgetary projection for next year, but while rumours circulated the prime minister gave assurances, now one newspaper has stepped up and said it – thousands of Barbados civil servants are to be laid off.

The Barbados Nation newspaper published a series of reports Sunday and Monday asserting that a decision was made by the cabinet of government ministers to cut the civil service payroll as part of measures to meet demands by international lending agencies and what is expected in an IMF report that is to come soon.

“Job layoffs in the public sector that could 3,000 are imminent,” the Nation stated Sunday, suggesting that the decision was taken by ministers at their meeting last Thursday.

What is troubling for Barbadians is that government has not denied this information, coming from an unofficial source such as a newspaper.

Instead, the Monday newspaper followed-up with a union official’s statement, implying that massive job cuts are coming and the softest impact is being sought for workers. “We are indeed having discussions with the minister of finance, the minister of labour and the head of the civil service, among others,” said National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) President, Akinni McDowall.

NUPW is the primary representative of civil servants, and Akinni was reported Monday saying that talks are at a sensitive stage.

Is it believed that when parliament meets Tuesday or Friday, an announcement to this effect will be made.

The layoffs are expected to come in January, and speculation is that the number of workers affected may be far higher than 3,000.

Cutting these numbers from a public workforce of some 24,000 can severely damage commerce. And while recognising a need to trim the bloated government service in this time of austerity, the private sector is blaming government for delaying what had to be done and now being forced to do it all at once.

“It is pretty obvious that if government had done incremental cuts it would have been easier to digest and people would have had time to find new sources of income,” lamented President of the Barbados Economic Society, Jeremy Stephen.

President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce, Lalu Vaswani, noted that in response to the island’s prolonged economic downturn, private sector companies had had adjusted by slowly reducing staff, and said, “It is expected that in a similar fashion, in order to rein in the high fiscal deficit, government too will have to take some action but it is necessary to approach this matter with great sensitivity.”

Government’s fiscal deficit has been climbing for years, and the Central Bank six months ago approximated that the administration needed to cut re-current expenditure by $225 million.

This need to cut was emphasised in the budgetary projections for next financial that was announced by Finance Minister, Chris Sinckler, in August, when payroll cuts were set to begin in September.

But when some agencies began making cuts, there were interventions by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, restoring employment to those who claimed to have been severed.

Opposition and social commentators accused him of playing to voters and delaying the inevitable.

It is believed that the moment of reality has now arrived and all could be made clear to Barbadians this week.

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