In June 2013 Government embarked upon a retrenchment exercise, in the public in order to reduce expenditure. By the time that exercise ended, 6,000 public servants were placed on the breadline. In effect, Government inflicted a 100% salary cut on those workers; many of whom are still out of work today.
After much cajoling, to show solidarity with the suffering masses, Government was persuaded to make a token 10% cut in the salaries of parliamentarians and other political appointees. I well remember, when the idea was first mooted, one parliamentarian showed his opposition by insensitively declaring that he could not afford a salary cut because he had bills to pay and children to support, as though those 6,000 public servants did not have similar commitments. In the end, however, parliament approved orders by the Minister of Finance setting out new salaries for parliamentarians and political appointees. The new salaries amounted to a 10% cut.
In accordance with the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries (Remuneration and Allowances) Act and the Senate and House of Assembly (Remuneration and Allowances of Members) Act, the Minister of Finance must publish orders to vary the salaries of parliamentarians. These orders must then be approved by both houses of parliament.
On February 7, 2014 the Minister made orders setting new salaries for parliamentarians. The orders did not contain any provisions stating or even implying that the new salaries would only be effective for a particular period. For all intent and purposes, the salaries in the 2014 orders became the new salaries for parliamentarians. If the reduction were intended for a specific period, the order would have said so and there would have been no need to return to the House, since a restoration would have been automatic, as was the case when public servants’ salaries were cut in 1991.
On April 15, 2016 the Minister again published orders setting new salaries for parliamentarians. When the contents of those orders were revealed, the public outcry forced Government into retreat and the orders were not debated. Eventually, Government spokesmen started to spin an explanation to say that the change in salaries was merely a restoration of the old salaries that had been reduced for a specific period. I do not recall any Government spokesman saying in February 2014 that the decrease in salary was only a temporary measure. I am not too big to apologise if anyone can direct me to Hansard (the official report of parliament) or any newspaper report which stated or even suggested that the 10% reduction was a temporary measure when it was instituted.
After a period of sustained propaganda, it would appear that Government felt comfortable enough to debate the measure. While introducing the resolution, Minister Sinckler was at particular pains to point out that the salary increase was not in fact a salary increase. He will be taking home more money, and if I have read the order correctly, he will also be back paid to April 2016. But he somehow believes that all Barbadians are mindless political dullards, who would actually accept what he said without question.
In his contribution to the debate, the Prime Minister made an apples and oranges comparison when he suggested that there was no difference between what they were doing now and the the restoration of public servants salaries in 2000. In the first place, the Public Service Reduction of Emoluments Act reduced the salaries of public servants, by 8%, for an eighteen month period and when it expired, salaries reverted automatically. Further, the salaries that were restored in 2000 were the actual amounts that were deducted from the workers emoluments. This was done when the economy improved and the Arthur Administration was in a position to return the money without adversely affecting the country’s finances. Is the PM suggesting that the economy has returned to health and the country can afford this largesse to politicians? If that is so, public servants who were sacrificed should soon be getting a decent salary increase after an eight-year wage freeze. Maybe, the improvement in the economy might only be enough to take care of the DLP politicians.