BARBADOS: Retrenchment, salary cuts, reduced working hours for private sector

(BARBADOS TODAY) – An ongoing wave of retrenchment, salary cuts, and reduced working hours being rolled out in the private sector are, for the most part, intended to ensure the survival of businesses despite suggestions that workers are deliberately being exploited.

So says former president of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry Eddy Abed who believes that the collapse of tourism, the cancellation of Crop Over, and seven weeks of dormancy have left employers facing a grim reality.

“This has now been seven weeks that businesses were closed and that is 15 per cent of your trading year. There is no way that businesses can survive on 15 per cent, so they must do certain things to make sure the businesses survive. This is not about profitability, this is about survival,” Abed told Barbados TODAY.

Recently, General Secretary of the Unity Workers’ Union Caswell Franklyn predicted that a proposal of ‘forced savings’ in the public sector would encourage indiscriminate salary cuts in the public sector.

Meanwhile, Deputy General Secretary of the Barbados Workers’ Union, Dwaine Paul has already reported instances of such alleged exploitation.

But the former BCCI President, who is Managing Director of Abed’s and Company Limited noted that shortened work weeks and salary cuts are measures that most companies must grudgingly consider in the interest of saving jobs.

“There is no major discord between the unions and the private sector. I think the unions understand the situation that we are in and equally, they also want jobs to be retained. They also want to see people re-employed and they know that it may not yet be back to a 40-hour week,” Abed contended.

“I am not going to comment on anyone else, but I will say that I think we need to be responsible; we need to be mature and we need to look at the overall picture. This is not going to resolve itself by the end of this year. This may take us until next year, maybe even the year after to get us back to pre-2020 levels.

“Nobody has a crystal ball here, but I think everybody understands that there has to be a partnership. I can’t expect to do it on my own without my staff working with me and no other business is going to do that,” he added.

Already at Abed’s, employees have been separated into two teams and asked to work just three days a week at their normal hourly rates. The “A” team works on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the “B” team works on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Though the measures have been implemented as a health precaution, Abed admitted there’s simply not enough revenue to resume a traditional 40-hour week.

“We’ve lost 15 per cent of our trading year and I’m very concerned about ensuring that we survive, and in order to survive means that we have to pay our bills. Forget making profits because that’s not going to happen this year and we are aware of that. I know I will have reduced income, so I must make sure my expenses are equally reduced.

“Every business – from wayside vendors to sole proprietors – are doing the same thing. That is a very important part of where we are and I will tell you, some will not survive. I don’t want to sit here and point fingers at anyone, but I am telling you it’s going to be difficult. It’s extremely difficult and this is not only driven by the social partnership. This is driven by the virus and a vaccine.

“Until we get some certainty and we know what is going on in tourism, which represents such a large part of the foreign exchange earnings in this country and pays so many wages, we are all going to be in a wait-and-see situation,” Abed added.

With the prospect of Crop Over now firmly out of the way, Abed is now hoping for clarity from authorities about a September start of the school year which often presents heightened commercial activity.

“Will the school year start in September? Will it be one where kids physically go to school? There is just too much uncertainty and we need that clarified sooner rather than later, not only as retailers actively in the back-to-school business, but also for the parents who need to know what they are going to be doing come next September.

“So, I’d like to see that we have a plan that we are working towards. It may not suit everyone, but at least we have a plan to work towards,” Abed suggested.