Reduce the size of Cabinet
After romping home to victory in the 2008 General Elections, the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administration managed to squander the goodwill of the people in five short years. Even their diehard supporters expected that the DLP was destined to become a one-term government.
Fortunately for them, they managed to turn things around by promising temporary public workers that their jobs would have been safe under a re-elected DLP administration.
That promise resonated with those fearful workers and, it is widely felt that they voted to secure their jobs, which, to my mind, was responsible for the DLP barely snatching victory from the jaws of a potentially humiliating defeat.
Those temporary workers included in excess of 3 000 recruits that were employed mere weeks before the elections. They were assured that the economy was sound and that their jobs would be for the long term if they voted DLP. They kept their side of the bargain and fully expected the Government to honour its commitments. Mind you it is an offence under section 6 of the Election Offences and Controversies Act to offer or accept employment in exchange for a vote. But no one seemed to bother about such details and, apparently no one referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. People were getting permanent jobs or so they believed and persons on both sides of that bargain were happy with the results, until.
On Friday, December 13, Government reneged on the promises of secured jobs by announcing that 3 000 workers would be joining the ranks of the unemployed early in the New Year. This has proven once again that the DLP’s solemn electoral promises cannot be relied upon. That alone should be enough to consign them to another long sojourn on the Opposition benches. But the cynic in me keeps suggesting that losing the next General Elections might not bother most of them. After all, the next poll is due in 2018 and by then most if not all of them would have qualified for their lucrative parliamentary pensions.
Those who entered Parliament in 2003 would qualify for a pension at a rate of two-thirds of their basic salary in 2015. (At today’s salary a minister would receive $8 405.00 per month at age 50). A minister who entered Parliament for the first time in 2008 would qualify for a pension of $6 349.25 per month, also at age 50. Unless they manage their personal finances like how they manage Government’s, they are set for life.
However, after using temporary workers to secure their future, these politicians have shown utter disregard or even contempt for the people who secured their future, by casting 3 000 unfortunate souls into the purgatory of unemployment.
Some of these workers are temporary in name only. As a matter of fact, there are persons who are considered temporary after working as much as ten years. My fear is that Government would send home 3 000 temporary workers only to discover that because of a hefty severance package, they cannot achieve the targeted expenditure cuts.
Since April 15 this year temporary workers, indeed all workers, at statutory boards are protected by the provisions of the Employment Rights Act. Laying-off these workers, in the manner being bandied about, could result in successful claims for unfair dismissal. For example, many of their temporary workers have been continuously employed for many years by issuing them a string of fixed term contracts. If these contracts are not renewed under the same terms, the Employment Rights Act deems the result as unfair dismissal. Under the heading of “Unfair Dismissal”, section 26 states, in part:
For the purposes of this part an employee is dismissed by his employer where
(a) the contract under which he is employed is terminated by the employer, whether with or without notice;
(b) he is employed under a contract for a fixed term and that term expires without being renewed under the same contract.
The only way Government can make savings laying-off this category of temporary worker would be its failure to pay the appropriate termination benefits as required by law. We will have to wait and see if Government would put a law in place to protect workers in April and then breach it in December.
In an attempt to appease the gullible, the Minister of Finance announced that Members of Parliament would suffer a reduction of 10 per cent of their salary. In real terms that is only a token measure. A minister’s monthly remuneration is $16 693.85 broken down as follows: salary, $12 698.50; entertainment allowance $2 014.19; and travelling allowance $1 981.16. There are therefore only giving up a measly $1 269.85. They will still be entitled to a gross remuneration package of $15 424.00 per month.
The present Cabinet is the largest in the history of this country and, judging from the state of the economy, Barbados is not getting value for money. I am firmly of the view that instead of a reduction of 10 per cent of basic salary, there should be a reduction in the size of the Cabinet, if the Prime Minister really wants to make a difference.
The constitution provides at section 64 that the Cabinet shall consist of the Prime Minister and not less than five other ministers. This country does not need a Cabinet of 16 to get us into the mess that we are in: six can do an equally poor job. At least the Treasury would save just over $2 million.
In Government the DLP are horrible leaders; in Opposition they were not good followers; and the only thing left is get out of the way for the sake of this country. Lead, follow or get out of the way Mr Prime Minister.
Caswell Franklyn is a trade unionist and social commentator. Email [email protected]