EDITORIAL: Public needs straight talk on job cuts
Since the last election in February of this year a topic which has not left the political talking tables has been the issue of job security in the public service, and whether there might be layoffs or cuts in its ranks.
Public sector jobs has been a touchy political issue ever since thousands were laid off in the early nineties under the Erskine Sandiford administration, with those lucky enough to hold on to their jobs suffering the 8 per cent pay cut which caused such pain to households all over the land.
During the last campaign the issue raised its ugly head with the Democratic Labour Party Government accusing its opponents of meeting and discussing the cutting of jobs in the public service. It was an issue which would have had some adverse political impact on the Opposition’s campaign.
The Government for its part was making it quite clear that it was bent on keeping every person employed in the public service and at one time argued that keeping all those employed in the public service in work was its “stimulus”.
Against this background the recent declaration by Minister Donville Inniss that the public service was too big and that numbers need to be reduced was an astonishing statement to come from a minister in a Cabinet team which not so long ago was touting its ability at succeeding in keeping every public servant in employment.
These comments were made just about the same time that the unions were beginning to bestir themselves in the wake of some statements about job cuts; which were thought to be mere rumours, but were rapidly acquiring more concrete status.
Indeed Mr Inniss’ disclosure followed closely upon news of meetings between the major public workers union and the ministry of the civil service.
The average citizen is bound to be more than a little disconcerted by the news that layoffs are apparently being seriously considered and that at least one minister is now declaring, less than a year having passed after the February election, that the civil service is too big.
We are well aware that some will regard these developments as mere politics. But issues of public policy, particularly touching on the sustainability of jobs, are serious issues with a human face, and must be treated as such.
The loss of a parent’s job may mean the difference between some Barbadian children going to sleep hungry and not having lunch money or school shoes on the following school day, or worse.
We have no doubt that the minister’s views are sincerely held and that even though he emphasized that he was speaking in a private capacity, he has added considerably to the public debate. We need to hear the views of his colleagues on this very important issue so that public debate can be enlightened. It cannot be in this country’s interest or in the interest of its public servants that for the second time in 20 years; there is a certain nervousness around dinner tables of some public employees as a debate intensifies about the viability of their jobs.
At some stage questions will have to be answered, but there has to be a better way, if we are building a society as well as an economy.