|Minister of Labour, Senator Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo. (FP)|
Guaranteeing decent work for public workers must be part of the dialogue on privatisation, as the issue involves more than just the bottom line.
This was asserted by Minister of Labour, Senator Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo, as she participated in a panel discussion on The Outsourced and Contract Worker: The New Road to Privatisation in Barbados at the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) headquarters, Dalkeith Road, St. Michael yesterday.
In her comments to the audience and fellow panelists, Dr. Byer Suckoo noted that while privatisation was not new to Barbados, it was evident that the public needed to be engaged on the matter; and while the term was often equated with improved efficiency, there were also financial and social implications to be considered.
"When government is in charge of its security services or its cleaning services, we know the conditions under which those workers [operate]… We have heard horror stories of persons in cleaning firms, hours that they have to work and conditions under which they work. Government has a responsibility to ensure…that we are not opening the floodgates for abuse of workers," she said, adding that there was also a cost involved for monitoring of contracts, to ensure quality and accountability.
A definition of terms was also necessary, Minister Byer Suckoo said, to fully understand the benefits and challenges privatisation presents.?? She suggested that it could refer to divestment or also privatisation of services. "We can be looking, for example, at government contracting out some of the work that they do…
"We are looking at the cost overall to outsource this work…we also have to consider government debt…all of these are considerations…but privatisation is not just about the bottom line," she stressed, noting that a major concern would be workers who could lose jobs as a result.
The Minister’s fellow panelists – Chief Labour Officer, Vincent Burnett; President of the NUPW, Walter Maloney; General Secretary of the NUPW, Dennis Clarke; and Chairman of the Private Sector Association, John Williams – also offered their opinions on the issue.??
Mr. Williams suggested that privatisation presented government with the opportunity to "improve efficiency in the offering of goods or services to the public…as well as reducing the demand on public finances. It also allows governments to focus their energies on funds on core functions."
However, Mr. Clarke indicated that "privatisation has not worked in those countries that were leading the charge in the mid 80s" and, offering Chile, Australia and New Zealand as examples, suggested that "there is no real proof to show that there is greater efficiency [with] privatisation…[It is believed that] when you privatise you get money coming into the coffers and, therefore, you lower the debt ratio; but to lower the debt ratio, it means that you are sending home people… I believe this is what the public would be very wary about."
Minister Byer Suckoo agreed that the term was one which engendered fear and acknowledged the efforts of the NUPW to address such concerns.?? She said: "We have not laid off any workers in government but it has required, in the past five years, the NUPW leadership working with [us]…
[The NUPW] has engaged government on what structures and practices have to be changed … while we have not been able to increase the wages, we have been able to work on other things in the public sector".