The Barbados government says at least 1, 500 public workers will be laid off over the next few weeks as it seeks to turn around an ailing economy, while acknowledging that sending home one worker “is too many”.
Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley in a radio and television broadcast to the nation on Sunday night, said that the job cuts will affect workers in central government and government entities.
“We give the country the assurance that while we do not have the exact number because we are following process, rather than arithmetical deductions, we know that it unlikely to be more than 1,500 people over the course of the next few weeks. But, regrettably, one is too many,” she said, while detailing a wide-ranging plan to cushion the fallout.
Prime Minister Mottley, whose Barbados labour Party (BLP) came to power in the May general election this year, acknowledged that it was a painful exercise her administration has embarked upon but added that the layoffs would be underpinned by the last in, first out principle and workers are in line to receive full packages.
“There will be severance type packages available to persons, particularly the temporary persons, and more than 80 per cent are temporary. Two, that those severance type packages will also be buttressed by payment in lieu of notice.
“Three, that without prejudice to that, that in some instances that there is vacation pay due to officers at an individual level.”
Mottley told Barbadians that her Cabinet had also agreed to ensure that dislocated workers would go home with their payments in hand.
“None of us would feel good having to go home without knowing where money is coming from and who is going to help us tomorrow or to come back next week or next month begging for money. We have to do this properly,” Mottley said, conceding that the process would not be problem free.
“Will it be seamless and absolutely perfect? Probably not. I have been around long enough to know that mistakes are made, but what is important is that if mistakes are made and they are brought to our attention that we correct them as soon as possible.”
But she told the nation that the government would be establishing a household mitigation unit to assist the retrenched workers.
“I will have five persons who will interact with all those who are being laid off to make sure there is a minimal standard of living below which no one in this country will fall,” Mottley said, adding that the government would also be partnering with the private sector, civil society, particularly the church to ensure minimal fallout.
Mottley said that the affected workers would be given priority when the government rolls out a project to digitize its vast records in January, among other things.
“We are in discussion with the international financial community to finance the project…. With respect to those who will be laid off from the Ministry of Public Works, equally we have recognized that those who are participating in government’s BDS$100 million (One Barbados dollar=US$0.50 cents) road programme will need to be able to hire persons within the next few months to be able to participate in that… activity, which will last us for the next few years,” she said.
Mottley said that as part of her administrations attempt to modernize the public service, workers would receive option forms “asking persons to indicate what is their passion, what is their wish, would they like to be retrained in a particular area, if they want access to a quarter acre of land and if they want us to help them establish a greenhouse so that they can get in to some kind of farming. Are they interested in livestock farming?”
She said another initiative would be the amendment to the laws to establish what it calls an affirmative action programme to allow for up to 20 per cent of the value of Government’s goods and services to go to displaced workers.
“Right now, we spend about BDS$400 million a year procuring goods and services; 20 per cent of that is BDS$18 million. That is more than four times the cost of the separation package that we will face in the next few weeks for central government and indeed it is an amount that can be shared with both existing providers of services or if there are groups of people who have been laid off who can, for example, come together and want to be able to provide Government with services or goods.”
Prime Minister Mottley said a committee made up of representatives from the social partnership along with members of the public service would determine who should benefit from the programme.
Barbados recently entered into a US$290 million Extended Fund Facility (EFF) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Mottley told the nation that at least 99 per cent of the creditors have agreed to back the Government’s debt restructuring exercise.
“I am happy to report that in respect to that debt exchange which involved 115 per cent of our national income or the equivalent of BDS$1.9 billion in domestic debt and arrears, that we have had the extraordinary performance of 99 per cent of those who tendered voting yes for the domestic debt exchange.
“And I am told that 99 per cent of those who tendered represents more than 90 per cent of those eligible to vote,” she said in her address, adding “I thank you on behalf of this country for that vote of confidence in our future”.
Prime Minister Mottley said the approval paved the way for the government to address the concerns of the island’s pensioners, scores of whom have publicly complained that they were relying on their investments for retirement income and would now be forced to live on reduced incomes.
“And I will provide the specifics on those as soon as we can, because we understand the nervousness that many still have,” Mottley assured.
She said that negotiations would also continue with external debt creditors this week and promised to provide a further update in due course.
“Once this is behind us, we will be in a position to advise the country, what will be the savings, both in interest and in terms of principal, that will allow us to move forward with certainty,” she said in her broadcast.