LEFT: Bernard Evans, president of the National Congress of Trade Unions Bahamas.
RIGHT: Zane Lightbourne, NCTUB General Secretary.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE National Congress of Trade Unions of The Bahamas, an umbrella organisation representing thousands of Bahamian employees, put the Minnis administration on notice that it will be watching closely to ensure the country’s workers do not “suffer unduly” so the government can meet its political promises at their expense.
The NCTUB said while some of the government’s new austerity measures are reasonable, they have to be implemented with “sensitivity and wisdom” to ensure workers are not negatively affected.
The union also wants the Minnis administration to be more specific about its plans and policies, releasing a statement yesterday that calls for the administration to live up to its transparency pledge.
During his national address last month, Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis announced a ten per cent cut in spending in all government ministries and no new public sector hiring.
He also said there will be no renewal of contracts for salaries which exceed $100,000 per year, adding he said he will ensure his ministers “adhere to their budgets and to financial constraints”.
Dr Minnis also announced a reduction in government vehicles as part of a “new era of financial discipline.”
Reacting to the planned cuts in government spending, the NCTUB said its “closely monitoring this austerity exercise.”
“While we wish to assure Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis of the assistance of the workers of the nation in bringing the economy of the Bahamas into order, we also put the government of the Bahamas on notice that the NCTUB is closely monitoring this austerity exercise,” the union said.
“In his first address to the nation, Dr Minnis announced a number of initiatives he said were intended to ‘create the economic and social environment in which the talents of the Bahamian people can flourish and in which we can live in peace and prosperity.’ Those initiatives impinge directly or indirectly on the lives of the nation’s workers, and as such are subject to the scrutiny of the NCTUB, the recognised voice of labour in the Commonwealth of the Bahamas.”
The group also said: “In this era of austerity, what steps have the government taken to ensure that it can properly supply and equip the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to enforce the vigilance to which Dr Minnis through his National Security Minister Marvin Dames has called for? How does the Ministry of National Security intend to handle the critical matter of minimising the risk to defence force officers’ lives to as low a risk as possible, acknowledging the nature of the job with which they have been tasked?
“No new public sector hiring? Salary freezes over $100K? Reduction in the number of government vehicles? These are all reasonable measures, and as long as they are implemented with sensitivity and wisdom, the NCTUB supports these measures. However, we will be watching carefully to ensure that the workers of the country are not made to suffer unduly in order for political promises to be kept at the expense of the good of the nation’s workers.”
Last month, Dr Minnis also announced numerous policies as well as the establishment of several committees/councils responsible for examining ways to reduce the burden state-owned enterprises placed on the country and ways to improve the ease of doing business.
The administration has not disclosed the people who have been appointed to these groups.
The joint statement from NCTUB President Bernard Evans and General Secretary Zane Lightbourne said: “We take special note of the appointment of a special committee to advise on state-owned enterprises, ‘with a view to reducing the burden of such enterprises on public finance.’ This is perhaps subtle language intended to reintroduce the discussion of privatisation.
“However, the fact is that a significant portion of the ‘burden of such enterprises on public finances’ is the compensation of the workers who make these state-owned enterprises run. “Who is on this special committee? What are their terms of reference? What is the specific timeline against which they are being held accountable? Who represents labour on this committee? Similarly, who is on the National Economic Advisory Council appointed to advise the Minnis administration on specific proposals for economic diversification and economic growth? Is the voice of labour absent from this council? When were they appointed? Under what terms of reference exactly are they operating? And again, the Ease of Doing Business Committee announced by the prime minister must bear the same scrutiny: who are its members and what are the terms of reference? For this administration that places such a premium on transparency and accountability, and that has committed itself to freedom of information, these are questions to which the country’s workers demand answers.”
The NCTUB also asked for details on the subcommittee of Cabinet ministers appointed to address the issues facing the New Providence Landfill.
“Who is on this Cabinet subcommittee,” the group asked. “What are their terms of references? What is the specific timelines against which they’re being held accountable? What measures exist to ensure they are serving the needs of the workers of the Bahamas, rather than their own commercial and self-interest?”
With respect to education, the NCTUB is seeking answers from the administration concerning its revelation that it has “recruited a number of new teachers.”
“What contract terms (exist) with regard to these new teachers?” the group asked. “Where have they been recruited from? What protections exist for them, and how are they to be integrated into the industrial agreement prevailing between the government of the Bahamas and the Bahamas Union of Teachers? Does this number satisfy the teacher shortage expressed for some years now?”