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EDITORIAL: Unions should have spoken out long ago

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

EDITORIAL: Unions should have spoken out long ago

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THE DIE has now been cast and the first victims of the lay-off policy of Government have been notified. It is not a spectacle to be welcomed in any nation, least of all this small country of ours. 
Many more persons than those actually laid off will be affected and the impact of this policy will probably have unintended ripple effects. 
The statements by some of these workers have made it clear that their children, in particular, will be affected.
Such people have to work sometimes not only because they want to; but also because the existence of children mandates that hungry mouths must be fed and bodies clothed and that they are sent to school.
These are the human dimensions of such a policy, which is why the Government said that such lay-offs would only be resorted to when it was inevitable. The human dimension may also have prompted the public workers union to put forward what they said were alternative proposals.
We have no doubt that the authorities would have alerted the social services personnel in the public service so that such assistance can be made available to those affected by these lay-offs.
It is a matter of supreme irony that the workers’ representatives are vocal at this stage; but that their voices were not heard earlier when the genesis of the problem was sown in the policies which were being announced by the Government.
Modern industrial relations involving the public sector requires that the unions involved should be concerned not only when terminations are being done, but we suggest at an earlier stage when the economic policies of the Government of the day are being enunciated.
Economic policy cannot operate in a vacuum and public sector unions cannot sit back and acquiesce in the policies of any Government without themselves analyzing with expert consulting opinions about the short-term, medium-term and perhaps the long-term impact of Budgetary policies.
Two decades ago this country found itself facing a similar economic quagmire in which spending by Government was outstripping income. The result was that thousands of public sector workers had to be laid off and those lucky enough to keep their jobs suffered an 8 per cent cut of salary as part of an adjustment programme.
Our call for a much more proactive approach resides in the experience that since 2008 there has been a body of opinion which spoke to the dangers of the government’s policies. The Opposition was insistent in this view, but they were not alone.
There was also a related view which surfaced about three years ago which suggested that expenditure needed to be cut, but we do not recall  the unions asserting their perspective that there were dangers in the unrestrained expenditure which has been a feature of Government’s policy ever since they came to office.
Our concern is not to unduly criticize any party or its policies. Rather we are concerned that the raw facts are laid bare in any ongoing analysis of our present position, because the core errors common to this problem were also present in the previous crisis.
The point we are making is this. If policy options could have avoided these situations then this must be made known to the voters who ultimately own this country.