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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: More confusion

Dr Frances Chandler, [email protected]

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH: More confusion

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WITH BARBADOS in such a precarious position, we can’t afford confusion. Why is confrontation always our first course of action?

As most agree, the recent action taken by the trade unions probably has more to do with the constant poor handling of public sector layoffs than with the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) issue itself. As far as I recall, members of Government have even admitted to many instances of this poor handling, but they obviously haven’t learnt their lesson.

I could be wrong, but I thought the forced retirement of the BIDC staff in question was brought about by the fact that the Corporation’s budget had been cut and rental payments for factory space were in arrears, thus further exacerbating their financial situation. So the call to pay the retired workers their full salaries until retirement age is ludicrous. In that case, why retire them at all?

But didn’t the BIDC staff contribute to their own problems by not ensuring the collection of rents and allowing arrears to reach such a level? And the poor condition of the industrial estate buildings seems to indicate a sad lack of maintenance over many years, something which has become a trademark of government buildings. At this rate, soon there will be nothing to rent.

We all know that overstaffing in the public sector didn’t start yesterday. Apart from the unnecessary political appointments, the alleged practice of cutting projects but keeping on the staff to do “who knows what” has come home to haunt the Government, and now that the bullet has to be bitten, all hell is breaking loose.

Of course, hiring public officers on contract with clear terms, together with renewal on the basis of productivity, could also save a lot of this hassle.

Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler’s famous “blind man on a trotting horse, sitting down backwards” speech in 2012, where he spoke of statutory corporations which “had become too wholly inefficient in service delivery, extremely costly to maintain and weak in some managerial and operational systems as well – much like the very Central Government administration they were created to assist”, should’ve prepared the BIDC and others for the possibility of restructuring/downsizing. While I don’t agree that if BIDC was closed, it wouldn’t be missed, I can’t say the same for some of the other statutory agencies. But that’s a topic for another time.

Then there’s the lack of clarity of regulations. The BIDC has one interpretation, the unions another. With all the legal jargon like “notwithstanding this and heretofore that and according to this or that schedule and those appointed before or after that date”, no wonder there’s confusion. I maintain laws should be crafted in straightforward language which leaves no room for varying interpretations and can be understood by the layperson.

Even the outcome of the talks which averted a national strike is not clear, with Government and trade unions reportedly sparring over the deal struck.

But apart from following the law, there’s a right and a wrong way to do anything. Our Social Partnership encourages respect, dignity and dialogue in all situations and needs to be awakened from its apparent dormancy to deal with all the contentious issues we now face. Maybe if the affected BIDC employees had been offered attractive packages for “voluntary” rather than “forced” retirement, the result might have been more favourable.

In a related issue, the Sanitation Service Authority (SSA) strike to support the BIDC employees emphasises the need for garbage separation at source and Government support for the local recycling businesses which are providing an excellent service. I recycle and compost and can say that if the SSA strike were to continue for another two weeks in addition to the past two and a half weeks my garbage hasn’t been collected, it wouldn’t adversely affect me. My garbage has been reduced to a minimum.

This bears out the wisdom of visiting Professor Paul Connett’s recommendation to reject the waste to energy plant and instead aim for zero waste, “where consumers are encouraged [although I would say mandated] to separate at source, compost, recycle and engage in other waste reduction initiatives”.

On that issue, judging from recent utterances from the Opposition, would it be fair to say that the firm stance taken by them (and supported by many) on the Cahill waste to energy plant seems to have “softened” somewhat? Does anyone know why?

• Dr Frances Chandler is a former Independent senator. Email [email protected]