Like a storm brewing in the ocean just about to hit land, the latest layoffs in Barbados have caused its own disaster with dangerously swirling emotions of anger and confusion.
On October 14, Prime Minster Mia Mottley made the announcement that the government was seeking to send home around 1,500 public servants during her national address from the official prime minister’s residence, Ilaro Court.
The retrenchment exercise, as explained by Mottley was in an attempt to cut government spending, in line with the objectives outlined in the Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) program, which has received backing from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
News of the impending layoffs were not met with any great enthusiasm, despite the Prime Minister’s attempts to lessen the blow, by utilizing the last in, first out policy, saying that more than 80 percent of the people who would be affected by the lay-offs were those holding temporary positions.
However, even as she explained that those being handed their notices would not be leaving empty-handed, the lay-offs were met by resistance nonetheless.
Mottley said it was regrettable to have to lay off so many, and explained that to her it was important that those who were terminated, left with a cheque dealing with the severance-type payments as well as the notice and the termination.
“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 and be begging for money,” she said.
The Trade Unions, most notably the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) were not impressed by the news or how government has ‘rushed’ the layoff process and ‘kept them in the dark’.
On Tuesday it was revealed that most of the 955 central government workers who were to be laid off were female, and the largest public sector trade union described this move as ‘an attack against women’.
NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith told the media she was ‘a little bit disappointed in the way that things went’.
“Yes, we recognized that there will be layoffs, but at the same time, we believe that we should have had more time for consultation on such a sensitive issue . . . and when we look, we recognize females . . . as the householders. They are the single parents, they have to look after their children, they have mortgages and rents to pay,” she said.
Giving some credence to her words, many workers received their walking papers on Friday, October 19, less than a week after news broke about the layoffs, creating an atmosphere of anger and confusion.
Confusion because some of the workers were unsure of their employment status as they were terminated by word of mouth and then urged to continue to turn up for work by trade unionist Caswell Franklyn, furthering a very messy situation.
While Mottley said Government would be establishing a household mitigation unit to assist those now on the breadline to ensure that none of them fell below the minimal standard of living, the Unions are calling the exercise a ‘rush job’ and stating that they themselves were not given enough or proper notice of what was going to really happen or how to proceed.