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More contradictions


Dr Frances Chandler

More contradictions

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I didn’t listen to Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler’s Press conference as I’ve been occupied with personal matters since New Year’s Day. However, judging from reports, contradictions and confusion are still the order of the day. On the one hand, Minister Sinckler says the unions were consulted on the layoffs, now he’s saying that Government is prepared to negotiate reducing the planned layoff of 3 000 public service workers if viable alternatives emerge.
Shouldn’t these alternatives have been part of the consultations with unions before the announcement? So, I’m still not convinced that the necessary job cuts will be made. When I see it, I’ll believe it.
Then we have the Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe saying that the Drainage Unit layoffs were “very, very badly handled”. Shouldn’t the “handling” have been discussed and a consensus reached? Some workers themselves recognized it made the Government “look foolish” and advised them to put their house in order.
Whatever cuts are eventually made, the unions will make a fuss, because like all unions, they apparently believe they must support workers at all costs. Maybe they should’ve spent more time instilling in their members the need to accept jobs under the right conditions and to give an honest day’s work for a fair day’s pay, rather than now trying to defend the indefensible. Where were they when people continued to be hired Election after Election when the need for these workers was questionable?
The National Union of Public Workers’ Dennis Clarke is complaining about Minister Donville Inniss saying to public workers that “if you are not on board to help us turn around the economy, to get projects going, then go home . . . . These are not the days for sitting around and getting a pay cheque; those days are over. We have to be far more productive than we’ve ever been”. Minister Lowe continued in this vein when he warned workers that under a restructured programme in his ministry, they would have to work and there could be no turning up or leaving at their pleasure or turning up with chairs (which seems to me to be their most important piece of equipment), combs and blankets! It’s admirable that these ministers seem to have finally seen the light, although it’s questionable whether they would sing the same tune at Election time.
Mr Clarke reportedly wants Minister Inniss to “visit the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and talk to those people who come in on mornings by 9 a.m., have their breakfast before 9:30 a.m. and [by] 2:30 p.m. they’re gone . . .”. But isn’t this par for the course with Government departments? So why pick on Minister Inniss? We know of another publicized case of a minister asking a worker about reports that she didn’t seem to be doing as much as she should and her reply was something to the effect that it was not that she didn’t do enough, in fact she “did nothing”. As far as I know, she wasn’t fired.
It’s clear that this phenomenon is a big problem in the public service. I recently visited Westbury Cemetery in preparation for my mother’s funeral and was appalled, but not surprised, to see the awful condition of the place. And this is in spite of over 30 workers with mechanical equipment employed there to maintain the site. It seems these workers come to work when they feel like it and leave after about four hours’ work. While I was there I saw less than ten workers on the job.
I’ve certainly observed road workers starting work at 9:30 and leaving at one o’clock, having taken an hour’s lunch.
Of course Government is not alone in needing to put its house in order and speak with one voice. I was disturbed that former Prime Minister Owen Arthur apparently dismissed as a gimmick the Leader of the Opposition’s call for an eminent persons group (non-partisan, I hope) to try to avert Barbados’ economic woes. While I agree it would probably take nothing short of a miracle to save us now, we can’t give up. Whoever caused the mess, we’ll all suffer. My experience from speaking with young businessmen is that they want to have their say – and I can’t blame them. One day Government will realize it doesn’t have a monopoly on ideas or common sense. And commonsense ideas are what we need urgently.
• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]

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