BEC: Farewell 2016, welcome 2017
TWENTY-SIXTEEN was another very challenging year for most employers in Barbados. It is useful for us to take a look back and use any lessons derived therefrom to chart our path for 2017 and beyond.
The political environment
We have seen delayed responses to major crises occurring during the course of 2016. These crises have significantly affected the business operations of our general membership with the most significant impact resonating with the hospitality sector. Such crises include but are not limited to the South Coast sewage issue, sanitation collection or ‘non-collection’; and parameters for the execution of increased taxation. This has all been compounded due to reduced dialogue at the level of the social partners.
The economic environment
Noted local, regional and international economists, financial commentators and investment houses continue to sound warnings about the unsustainable nature of Barbados’ fiscal accounts and particularly the negative impact of the debt to GDP ratio which continues to put pressure on the foreign reserves and currency peg with the United States dollar.
The uneven and subdued growth of international economies and slowing of world trade continue to present significant challenges for Barbados’ major trading partners, who continue to experience high levels of youth unemployment and immigration/migration challenges, which are forcing them to be more inward looking.
Considering the foregoing, projections being offered for growth in the economy, even though recently revised downwards, would appear to be overly optimistic.
The legislative environment
While no new legislation was proclaimed in 2016, issues of significant note are:
Holidays with Pay Bill – while discussions commenced on a new Holidays with Pay Bill in 2013, a final draft was disseminated in 2016 for comment and review by the social partners.
Employment Sexual Harassment Bill – a revised version of this bill was tabled and discussed in March of 2016.
There has been an increase in reports of sexual harassment over the past year and it is hoped that there will be greater tripartite discussion in 2017 towards the proclamation of a balanced and supportive act.
Employment Rights Act – While it has been recognised that there are issues which have been identified by industrial relations practitioners and staff of the Labour Department, the Barbados Employers’ Confederation canvassed its membership with the primary focus of identifying any major challenges for reporting to the relevant authority.
It is hoped that there will be a significant level of engagement on these challenges and subsequent resolution to many in 2017.
The Social Partnership
During 2016, the sub-committee of the Social Partnership, which typically met on a monthly basis under the chairmanship of the Minister of Labour, Social Security and Human Resource Development in previous years, had the number of meetings called, significantly reduced for various reasons. However, work on the drafting of Protocol VII continues in earnest with meetings of the working group generally scheduled for Tuesday every week.
Additionally, looking back at the last few meetings of the sub-committee, the limited participation of the National Union of Public Workers and the Barbados Workers’ Union raises red flags and could be considered as early signs of the disintegration or at least the diminution of the efficacy of the Social Partnership if their continued absence is not frontally addressed.
The confederation must at this point, restate its commitment to work in the context of the Social Partnership as we collectively seek to address the restructuring of the country’s economic model with a view to significantly reducing the cost to the Government, while simultaneously growing the economy.
The way forward
As we move into 2017, the most significant national challenges are the need to: promulgate a coherent, well-articulated set of growth strategies, especially for the tourism, international business and manufacturing sectors; implement a structured short, medium and long-term set of strategic initiatives for the revitalisation of our agriculture sector to ensure our food security, to limit dependence on external producers; rein in the burgeoning national debt; implement tighter fiscal consolidation measures; implement aggressive national strategies to restore fiscal discipline; become more efficient at business facilitation; encourage significant restraint in wage demands; and urgently address the requirements for greater labour flexibility.
Current world economic outlook portrays continued growth in the UK, US and Eurozone. On the UK front, data show a further improvement in the manufacturing sector and restoration of consumer confidence after the post-referendum downturn.
Meanwhile in the US, the economy seems to be back on track for robust growth as monthly indicators strengthened. Dynamics in private consumption are intact and there has been increased traction in the industrial sector. The Eurozone’s economic recovery continued at a broadly steady pace. Further, unemployment remains steady and industrial production rebounded. All in all, the conditions that have fuelled the recovery so far remain largely in place and growth is expected to proceed at a moderate pace.
Foreign direct investment inflows are expected to continue at relatively low levels, further compounding our foreign exchange receipts challenges.
While the world economic outlook demonstrates signs of recovery, at the national level, we foresee continued challenges and as such, we must approach the coming year with confidence in our own abilities to be the change we want to see! Inno-vation has to be a key pillar in our strategies as the environment around us evolves rapidly and it will be no longer “business as usual”. We must make greater use of, and embrace, the rapidly changing information and communications technologies.
At the level of the business organisation, greater emphasis needs to be placed on: improving individual and corporate efficiency; improving individual and corporate productivity; enhancing our international, regional and local competitiveness; being innovative in problem resolution; identifying and developing new opportunities to grow economic activity and job creation; and working smarter!
To support the foregoing needs, the confederation offers a menu of services and support facilities which include but are not limited to: training interventions; risk assessments/audits; human resource audits; and HR support services. The confederation’s membership, represents employers in all economic sectors from large conglomerates to small and micro-enterprises and we look forward to working with you in 2017 and beyond as we seek to support your efforts to get your organisations ready for the inevitable changes ahead.
The confederation’s continued participation in, and contribution to, dialogue at the national level with a view to the revitalisation and restructuring of our economy, will guide our advocacy responsibilities in the years ahead. Each stakeholder has a role to play; while the confederation is dedicated to the growth and development of our nation, all stakeholders must work proactively and effectively to cultivate the change needed to chart the way forward. As a small nation, we must be resilient, innovative and empowered to take action.
Tony Walcott is executive director of the Barbados Employers’ Confederation.