Layoffs in Barbados splits cabinet

Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

The plan by the Barbados government to lay off more than 3,000 public servants in a country with already limited employment opportunities is beginning to take its toll even on cabinet ministers with a senior member going public to express his disagreement with the move.

Agriculture Minister David Estwick this week said the administration of Prime Minister Freundel Stuart is using the wrong medicine to send home civil servants, many of whom are the sole person working in their families. This is causing severe hardships.

He made his comments as authorities have stepped up the pace at which pink slips are being issued with many of the victims publicly shedding tears after being told they are being sent home for the foreseeable future

“I have said to the cabinet I will not be part of the retrenchment exercise. I have said to them over and over that I cannot be a hypocrite to my intellect and common sense, and if the cabinet ignores me then I will be true to myself,” said a clearly angry former economic affairs minister in interviews with local newspapers this week. “I am not afraid to say what I have to say because I stand by my inferences and by my reasoning and my common sense. Where that leads me, it will lead me.”

He said the retrenchment exercise will not correct a $700M current account deficit the tourist paradise of more than 370,000 people is carrying at the moment.

The island’s economy is largely dependent on tourism, light manufacturing and a waning financial services industry. Stuart and Finance Minister Chris Sinckler have both said that the economy is in dire straits and need austerity measures to correct the situation including a serious trim of government spending on salaries.

Estwick wants the prime minister to make a full power point presentation of the state of the economy and to give details of the layoffs, which have caused so much grief and have triggered fears of a serious political backlash against the governing Democratic Labor Party (DLP) in the near future.

The minister said authorities need to look at other cost cutting measures apart from retrenchment while coming up with a proper growth strategy for the near future.

The main opposition Barbados Labor Party (BLP) and the main civil service union, the NUPW have asked authorities to hold their hand and to be more creative by targeting those near retirement and those interesting in leaving the public service rather than sole breadwinners and other vulnerable categories of workers.

NUPW General Secretary Dennis Clarke has said the union will press authorities to immediately begin reemploying sole breadwinners or face industrial action. On Friday, 300 workers of the national housing corporation were sent home amidst tears and wailing. Union leaders say workers with known health problems should be allowed to leave.

As an indication as to how severe this issue is tearing at Barbadian society, respected Anglican Cleric Charles Morris now says that the Church should shoulder the blame for much of the island’s social and other woes.

“The church has to shoulder the blame for what is happening in this country, for while the warning signs were on the horizon, the church sat by and said nothing. The church has representatives in the senate but not a word of condemnation – where is the voice of God? Many of our church leaders are more concerned with titles than being involved in serious theological discussion and reflection. They are more concerned with being referred to as reverend doctor than making church reverent but the more doctors we have in the church, the sicker the church and society is becoming,” he argued.

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