Following reports of added money in the treasury of the Barbados government, trades unions and politicians have joined in a chorus calling on the Prime Minister Freundel Stuart administration to put some of that cash into workers’ pockets.
Government last week reported raking in some Bds$50 million (Bds$1 = 50 cents US) after only three months of applying the National Social Responsibility Levy which was jacked up by 400 per cent, moving this sweeping import tax from two percent to 10 percent as of July 01.
That $50 million bonanza is however set to increase as the Value Added Tax that is to be applied to goods imported over the three months is not yet calculated.
In response to street protests by private sector and trade unions complaining about the likely hardship stemming from the spiked tax, Prime Minister Stuart had in August undertook to grant civil servants a salary increase at the end of September once the NSRL had proven effective as a revenue earner.
Not surprisingly, almost immediately after the report of the large amount of money hauled in and which is set to exceed budget projections, President of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), Akanni McDowall, pointed out, “the minister of finance is now saying that the NSRL is performing... and the prime minister said that if the NSRL performed the way that they expected there would be a review of our demands.”
NUPW the largest representative of civil servants, was since last year pushing for a 23 percent increase in the pay of public workers whose salaries were frozen for nine years.
“We are now hopeful that there can be some move towards public servants getting their wage increase, or at the very least they should be able to get the coping subsidy because we can’t have a situation where as the grass is growing, the horse is starving,” McDowall said.
When asked about the finance minister’s report on money received and the trade union’s call, Prime Minister Stuart told the Barbados TODAY online newspaper, “the minister can say what he feels like saying but I don’t have all the data on the [NSRL] performance for the first quarter and when I get it I will speak to it.”
This irked Member of Parliament Kerri Symmonds who said, “I thought that having given a commitment that at the end of September he would review the thing, when he sees Sept. 25, 26 or 27 come along ... you would be calling for the documentation [to see] if there is money.”
Adding “there is pain in the land” Symmonds, an Opposition Barbados Labour Party MP, said he had expected that by the end of September Stuart would have been seeking to “ensure that the people of Barbados who are workers get a little benefit because they did not have a benefit for nine painful years.”
Opposition Leader Mia Mottley joined in by charging, “If the public servants deserve the pay increase, as we believe that they do, give it to them. And if you feel you can’t give them a full pay increase because you need more negotiations, at the very least give them a cost of living allowance, a coping subsidy.”
“This government has got to stop playing political football with the public servants of Barbados,” she said.