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AS I SEE THINGS: Unions must be held accountable


Brian Francis

AS I SEE THINGS: Unions must be held accountable

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As a serious people, we in the Caribbean must and should always hold our leaders to account for their stewardships. This means that our politicians, trade unionists, church leaders, and employers, inter alia, should constantly be reminded of their respective positions of authority and be prepared at a moment’s notice to account for all of their behaviours. That, to me, is the real way by which ordinary citizens could guarantee that our leaders do lead by example and are able to stand up to scrutiny, always!
In the prevailing financial and economic environments throughout the region, it is becoming more and more difficult for our governments to fulfil their moral and social obligations to those citizens who depend mostly on the public purse for their continued survival.
And that is so because even a nippy momentary look at the data would suggest to all and sundry that the fiscal situations facing virtually all Caribbean countries are at alarming states, thus warranting instantaneous interventions characterised by earnestness of purpose, ardour to succeed, and strong wills to persevere by those charged with the execution of such responsibilities throughout our small, open and vulnerable economies.
Yet still, I reside on the side in the debate which says that our governments have to become more innovative and start taking serious actions for the good of their citizens and countries.  It is surely one thing to ask ordinary public servants to make sacrifices to protect the economy but quite a different matter when it comes to rewarding those same officers even under severe fiscal stress.
But Grenada and St Lucia, as just two recent examples, have proven the critics wrong and went ahead and awarded salary increases to their public servants even when it was clear that the governments were under tremendous pressure to meet their monthly wage bills.
Alarmingly, quite the opposite has happened in Barbados. In fact, the trade unions here in Barbados have joyfully accepted Government’s position that increases in wages and salaries should be placed on the bank bench in order to “preserve jobs” in the public service.
Evidently, we have come full circle, haven’t we? As recent as last Monday, Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development Donville Inniss has publicly declared that the size of public service should be reduced. And if one reads into statements by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and Minister of Finance Christopher Sinckler, then, it is logical to conclude that job losses in the public service are imminent. Believe it or not, my reading of the economic statistics for Barbados have led me to conclude that the sending home of public servants in Barbados is now inevitable.
Assuming that I could be wrong; but, like former NBA star, Charles Barkley, “I doubt it,” then, our trade unions must, like government, be held accountable for any public sector job losses in this beautiful country called Barbados.
You see, I have said before in this very column that since the present administration first took office in 2008 it seems that magically most of the problems plaguing the public service and public officers have just vanished into thin air so much so that there is hardly a need for major industrial action.  
More importantly, it continues to baffle my mind every time I reflect on how apparently easy it was for our unions to accept from government the substitution of pay hikes for job security.  What has happened to this so called job security now that thousands of public workers are facing layoffs and soon whether the government believes this to be true or false.  What say you, union leaders?
• Brian Francis, PhD, is a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus.

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