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PURELY POLITICAL: No LIFO, Lowe?


Albert Brandford

PURELY POLITICAL: No LIFO, Lowe?

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“It was also noted that the ‘last in, first out principle’ should be adopted only as a last resort measure,” [Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe] stressed. – Interview with BGIS, February 21, 2014.
In that interview, Lowe also said he had asked the National Conservation Commission (NCC) to take into account workers who may have “eclipsed” age 65 and would willingly consent to early retirement.
“The minister said he advised the NCC’s board and management that considerations in the selection of persons to be retrenched must (my emphasis) take into account a person’s physical capacity to carry out the work assigned, workers’ records of attendance, productivity and demonstrated consistency and commitment to the mandates of the NCC.”
The language seems to be that of a man fighting for justice on the basis of worker performance, above all else, but it was also a signal to all involved that he intended to fight for workers taken on during his tenure.
He epitomises the strategy used by this Administration in its quest to retain the Government: let us make every effort to increase the level of employment in the public sector notwithstanding the decline in the economy and its effect on revenue.
The politics of the strategy is justifiable on the basis of looking out for the small man in times of trouble. It is always a winning strategy that has its moment in time. Once that moment has passed, however, and the strategy has served its purpose, reversing it can also be justified.
This kind of reversal is an acceptable part of the DNA of politicians. For the most part, the appropriate thing in politics is to appreciate that most issues exist for a moment in time and may be dealt with by applying the moral minimum required in the circumstances. Such astute understanding of the political environment constitutes the essence of a winning strategy.  
The consequences of such a strategy are clear now that the economy appears listless.
The deafening silence in the aftermath of the strategy is itself a strategy. Other ministers would have benefited from the largesse doled out by Lowe.
Now that the time has come to deal with the obvious negative implications of the winning strategy for the short-term viability of the economy and the long- term social development path, distribution in favour of the minister may mean unfavourable consequences for his constituents.
In short, the day of reckoning is upon him and the Stuart administration. But what about the reckoning for the workers’ representatives?        
The apparent naïvety of the unions in the entire retrenchment process is bewildering. In the case of the NCC, unless Lowe receives a monthly report on workers’ performance for an extended period, it would be remarkable for him to go against last in first out (LIFO) – which was a Cabinet policy decision in January – without the support of the unions.
One union fretted about the NCC withholding the full list of people eligible for retrenchment and offered only those targeted, but it could still boast that the number was reduced from 250 to 194. It also described the board’s approach in meeting with the union one week in approving terms as a “classic case” of how employers and labour should approach job cuts but a week later when the axe fell without further communication, there were only dire warnings about people “running afoul” of the union.
This is indicative of the virtual emasculation of the unions during the process – though some would argue that the emasculation started in the failed private sector negotiations concerning businesses in Bridgetown and on the West Coast.
What criteria other than LIFO could the NCC or a minister use to fairly retrench workers?
Perhaps Government should have appealed to history in helping to execute this very difficult exercise. That would be even more relevant in circumstances where Government promised not to lay off its workers.
In the 1991/1992 economic crisis, thousands of Government workers were retrenched without the prolonged scrutiny that has attended this exercise. The lessons learnt from the past could have been employed. But for some reason, leadership has been lacking.
The fact that Lowe had to declare that he is apparently against LIFO came in response to the lack of clarity associated with retrenchments in other departments before the NCC. Again, this is indicative of the lack of leadership at the top.
There does now appear to be some method in the madness that seeks ultimately to divide the country into constituencies first and foremost, in an economic environment that has no such boundaries. The political environment, however, does have boundaries, which are critical to the bigger picture in the eyes of Government.
Thus, the importance of not supporting LIFO.
• Albert Brandford is an independent political correspondent.

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