EDITORIAL: Hikes should be linked to ability to pay
DEFENDING WORKERS’ RIGHTS is a priority for trade unions. At times this is done in a manner that can be to the detriment of the nation and businesses which employ their members, indicating a clear requirement for good judgment by union leaders.
Most people would be dumbfounded by the submission by the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) for a 23 per cent pay increase for public workers. Implicit in the NUPW’s request is that it does not buy the notion that the country’s economy is still in a perilous condition and does not have the capacity to meet large salary increases and fringe benefits that will add additional costs to the national budget.
Barbados is in the lamentable position of being ranked No. 16 amongst the top 20 most indebted countries in the world. After almost a decade of economic stagnation and efforts to tackle the stifling debt as a percentage of GDP, the situation remains worrisome. This is in spite of last week’s pronouncements from the International Monetary Fund that the economy has started to look up. As the country struggles to break free from an economic tightrope, there must be the realisation that nothing must be done to undermine any gains, including the protection of jobs. And we can no longer borrow to pay our way.
No one can deny that the public workers have held strain on their wages and salaries for an extended period and deserve pay increases. But, this can be done only within the state’s resources and its ability to pay. The NUPW must know that its demands are ludicrous and should therefore enter the new wages negotiations with lower demands and expectations. Government is struggling to pay its bills and to add a few hundred million dollars more to its pay sheet is simply unrealistic.
The NUPW, like all other unions, is under pressure given the decline in membership. But, fees and the drive for membership must not become more important than the country’s economic stability. Our labour unions have a history of being patriotic and committed to the country’s welfare, especially during challenging times. The Social Partnership has been a wondrous testimony of what can be achieved through collaboration. This responsible approach must not change at this juncture.
What we need is for all unions to be vocal on the issue of performance and productivity and how to get the country on a sustainable path. This must include growing businesses to ensure they are economically viable so that employees, including union members, can benefit from the gains.
This is not the time to make unreasonable demands.