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Editorial: A Long, Hot Summer Of Trouble

AT the start of the summer, this column raised a question: Is a summer of discontent heading our way?

Fast forward to yesterday, with public servants marching on the streets and junior doctors only providing emergency service and it appears the answer was very much yes.

Back in May, when we raised that question, we had urged both sides to get on with the one thing that was needed most – talk.

That remains one of the outstanding items on the to-do list. Civil servants marching yesterday were seeking higher wages – but they were also wanting to get on with negotiating their outstanding industrial agreement.

Bahamas Public Services Union president Kimsley Ferguson said as they gathered outside where Cabinet was meeting that “we would be delighted to sit outside and hear what the government is going to present”.

Meanwhile, junior doctors were on strike for a second day, bringing non-emergency services grinding to a halt. Some of the stories emerging from that show the real pain that people are experiencing from the withdrawal of services, from complaints in the maternity ward to families being unable to identify their loved ones. Society affected from the cradle to the grave.

These are not the only disputes – and there may still be more to come, with the teachers union seeking a 20 percent pay rise and the government busily turning out its empty pockets.

There lies the heart of the problem. The government says simply that it has no money to offer.

Already, the government had been signalling it might miss its deficit forecast and pointing the finger of blame at unions that might seek more than the government could afford.

That came before the government suddenly realised just how badly the ongoing power crisis was affecting the country and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest was told to shake out the piggy bank and see what could be done to sort that out. With more borrowing possibly to come there, it leaves the money available to negotiate deals with unions thin on the ground.

Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis said the country is “taking ourselves out of the pit, but still have a lot to do”. He says the government will try to make the unions know “the state of the economy” which sounds far from the confident boasts from leaders after the last unemployment figures or the projected record-breaking tourism numbers.

So why is the government in this position? That was the question too of National Congress of Trade Unions president Bernard Evans, who said it was “hard to fathom” how it was so hard to strike a deal with unions after economic growth and the hike in VAT. He wants to know why the government is “in such dire financial straits”.

The signs have been there for some time that the government’s pockets are empty – from reduced plans for National Health Insurance to delayed spending in other areas. At the same time, the word came from Minister of Health Dr Duane Sands this week that the government didn’t want to impose the sugary drinks tax he had suggested – or any tax for that matter.

So are the coffers empty? And if so was nothing budgeted to meet the demands of unions or even just the standard renegotiations of deals that were due to come up?

There are many questions regarding individual deals with unions – but perhaps the broader question is whether the government was in a position to make any deals. Has it been stalling for time? Is this why negotiations are outstanding? And if so, then when does it expect to be able to make good on matters?

Unions can play their part if the situation is as dire as the government paints – by looking to agree multi-year deals where the benefits come in after the first year. But to do so, they need to be sure the information they are given is correct, and that promises made now will be honoured over the duration of any deal.

Remember – there are more disputes to come. The summer of discontent might be almost over – let’s hope it’s not followed by an autumn and a winter of trouble too.

Comments

birdiestrachan 1 month ago

This FNM government is not known for transparency or truth. they did have enough money to make the University of the Bahamas free. enough to pay 9.000 a month rent for CA Smith to move the post office into Mr: Symonette building. QC for Frank Smith case.

They avoid their responsibilities do what ever they please they cry poor mouth.

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Porcupine 1 month ago

Yes birdie, we could look at it as an FNM problem, and then everything would be just dandy once we get them out of office. A clearer mind would say it is an endemic problem of this country and all players have played their part in getting here. We have a leadership deficit that goes deeper into our national dilemma than most of us care to question.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 3 weeks, 1 day ago

Right you are, Porcupine. Too many Bahamians fall victim to thinking through a warped and biased political party lens, whether it be of the PLP, FNM or DNA kind. None of these political parties has ever produced an honest, hard working, intelligent and patriotic statesman whose primary interest is the well being of our country and its citizenry. Our country's political history is littered with incompetent and corrupt politicians because voters have consistently failed to realise corrupt political parties do nothing but produce corrupt political candidates come election time.

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proudloudandfnm 1 month ago

I cannot think of one area of civil service that deserves a pay raise. If anything we need to cut their numbers down about 40%.

A raise?? Ya'll outta ya minds hey? We have VAT now solely because of our bloated civil servant payroll. Raise? Good thing I aint PM, I'd chase ya'll outta my office with a switch....

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ThisIsOurs 3 weeks, 6 days ago

I'm thinking that if govt cut 40% of its workforce with no option for those persons to find other employment, you'd find businesses closing doors left right and center. Those persons would no longer have money to pay bills, buy food, gas or perform any economic activity. And for businesses in such a small community to be hit with that massive drop off at one time, it could be devastating.

Now if govt did a sensible reduction...I've made this suggestion before...let's say that you know today that in one year you will need to let go 5000 people. Well what are the jobs that the private sector needs? Those persons identified for separation for the next year are enrolled in classes. By the end of that year they have the skills to enter the private sector and I'm not talking about training them to say please and thank you. Meaningful skills. Of course the governance would have to be thought through, you dont want persons who've been released to attend classes who never show up or don't do the work required.

Where would the money come from to train them? A portion would come from their salary. The instructors could be skilled persons who are currently unemployed. A win win. So the employee has the option, retraining at a cost of $20 per week or immediate separation. A skilled unemployed person training 30 people would make 600 per week. Youd be addressing 3 problems in the community.

Unemployment. 100-150 Meaningful jobs. That's as much as those billion dollar resorts like to tout.

Skills gap - You could learn advanced statistics for example in one year, or get a series 7 certification, a junior accountant certification, and tgere are others. No it wouldnt be for everyone but some would have the aptitude. And there are other meaningful skills that could be taught.

Work permits. With a cadre of retrained professionals businesses have a new pool of skilled workers who've been trained in precisely the areas they need

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