BPSU urges Govt to act quickly on price control efforts
Union leader Kevin Grant has urged Government to accelerate efforts to curb prices on staple foods and utilities now that the 4.5 percent wage cut for Government workers has gone into effect.
The first cheques drawn on reduced rates were issued on Friday prompting the Bermuda Public Services Union president to reiterate the call for shared sacrifices across the board.
In a statement released to this newspaper he stressed that “members were struggling” to meet financial commitments even before the wage cuts.
“It's not like the banks are easing up on mortgages or interest rates right now,” said Mr Grant.
“If we're going to ride this wave together sacrifices truly have to be shared.
“That's the hard talk that really has to happen and we're looking to have it.”
He noted that the list of foreclosures includes friends who have lost their homes.
“I know that people are feeling it. There's a tension out there in the community, you can cut it with a knife.
“People are under pressure and when you go to a family event based on the social dialogue people are clearly uptight.”
With the SAGE Commission report still due he added: “The ramifications are going to be far reaching — something this country has never experienced before.”
He questioned whether Government will actually follow through with the recommendations pending.
“That remains to be seen,” Mr Grant said. “The suggested recommendations of reducing Government expenditure are easier said than done.”
“Drastic cuts in salaries and services within Government could have far-reaching repercussions.
“This could lead to stifling innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship; which is a major component of the economic recovery puzzle that we often seem to forget.”
SAGE submitted an Interim Report to Finance Minister Bob Richards on July 23.
Their final report, which will “offer a blueprint” on cost cutting measures for Bermuda's Civil Service is due in October.
The recommendations will be released when the report is tabled in the House of Assembly in November.
Moving forward he said: “The sooner we realise the need to stop pointing fingers the better equipped we will be to address these pressing issues.”
He stressed that the BPSU agreed the “hard realities we face will require hard dialogue, which more than likely will result in hard decisions”.
But he said: “It's important that these hard decisions be embraced by all stakeholders in order for there to be buy-in and a concerted effort towards a solution.
“Regardless of our personal opinions the sacrifices made must be truly shared.
“It is imperative that this is facilitated through social dialogue via the Tripartite Economic Committee. However, the dialogue must not stop there.
“It has to be multifaceted because the sacrifices being touted will be far reaching.”
As far as he's concerned “the tripartite economic initiative has been put on the back-burner for far too long”.
“With the crisis we are facing, there should be no lingering doubts as to whether it is realistically possible to find common ground between traditional antagonists like organised labour and the corporate sector,” said Mr Grant.
“Trade unions have been advocating for a collaborative approach that promotes strategic and critical dialogue which benefits the whole of society and not just specific groups.
“It is difficult at times to put aside underlying interests; however it is not far-fetched to be able to identify a common set of objectives.
“The mindset of all parties must shift from taking an independent stand to that of participation and cooperation, and the vested interest of all parties is geared towards a win—win solution.”
On that note he pledged the BPSU will play their part. “We stand committed and ready to represent every one of our members,” he said.
“Our mandate has not changed: we will fight tooth and nail for job security and the rights of the workers of this country.”
In his Labour Day address on Union Square, Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy said Government had started talks with Belco and a “leading” grocery chain” to reduce costs.
He also assured marchers that Government understood the plight of the unemployed and was working to bring a measure of “relief”.
Said Sen Fahy: “To encourage true shared sacrifice I can confirm that very recently the Deputy Premier Michael Dunkley and I met with one of the leading grocery chains to see how we can work together to reduce prices on standard food items.”
On Friday, Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley said he was not in a position to make a statement on the status of talks with the Island's grocers.
Speaking for the Ministry of Home Affairs in the House he told MPs that due the sensitive nature of the talks, he was unable to comment.
Economic Development Minister Grant Gibbons, meanwhile, confirmed that Government has held several meetings with Belco on energy costs.
He also said Government is in the process of analysing the review of the company's fuel adjustment rate which is the subject of further discussions with Belco.