PM responds to recent protests
Prime Minister Freundel Stuart reiterated his Government’s determination over the weekend to act if there are mass protests in response to industrial relations grievances that present a threat to the “national interest”.
Commenting on present industrial unrest, including the recent threat of a national shutdown by trade unions, Stuart said: “I have not known any period in our post-Independence history or our pre-Independence history, during my lifetime, where there had been these sustained attempts to create civil commotion here in Barbados”.
Addressing a fundraiser put on by the Christ Church West constituency branch of the ruling Democratic Labour Party (DLP), Stuart spoke of the 1969-70 period of the Black Power movement in Barbados when then Prime Minister Errol Barrow introduced the Public Order Act.
He also referred to controversial 1974 amendments to the Constitution, and said in both instances there were objections by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party.
Stuart insisted the Government was not discriminating against workers over 60 years old, referring the recent decision of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) to send ten persons in that age group into early retirement. This issue almost led last week to a general strike that was averted at the 11th hour.
He also contended there was nothing wrong with asking Customs employees if they wanted to be transferred to the new Barbados Revenue Authority, another issue that had triggered industrial action. He said he was unfazed at the “commotion”.
Referring to the BIDC issue, Stuart said: “It is not true that the Statutory Board Pensions Act discriminates against people who are over 60. It is not true that there are no corresponding provisions in the central civil service”.
He added, “Section 13 of the Pensions Act, Chapter 25 of the Laws of Barbados, contains the same provision. The only difference being that whereas for statutory boards, the board has the discretion, and for the central civil service, the Governor General has the discretion”.
Addressing the Customs issue, he said: “There can be nothing wrong with asking somebody to say whether he or she is coming or whether he or she wants to stay”. He continued, “So far as the option forms are concerned, all that the Government wants is to find out how many people are coming with the (BRA) board so that they can get on with the business of the integration.
“Those who are not coming, the Government will look around for places in the public service to see where they can be accommodated.”
Implying Opposition forces were behind the labour unrest, Stuart said he had “grown accustomed to much of this”.
“Make as much noise, try to create as much confusion as possible . . . because all they wanted to do was to get into office and I’m seeing a lot of those tactics at work now”.
He added: “All of this threatens to reverse a lot of the gains that we were able to register during this very difficult period in Barbados economic history. We cannot afford to have our gains reversed by this kind of conduct. There is something called the national interest which should preponderate [prevail] over any other kind of interests when the chips are down.
“I am a little concerned that there are people in the society now occupying strategic positions in some of our most important institutions who seem to be losing sight of that fact.”