CDB head sounds warning on economic recovery talk

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – Outgoing president of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr Compton Bourne, has advised regional countries against premature expectations related to what is being recognised as moderate economic recovery in the developed world.

Bourne spoke on the issue here Tuesday when he addressed an International Labour Organisation (ILO)/CDB Tripartite symposium on the effects of the global economic crisis on Caribbean labour markets.

He said the region needed to be “cautious” in its optimism that recovery in the developed world could accelerate a reversal of the economic challenges of the Caribbean, describing the most recent trends in North America and Europe as “unstable.”

On Monday, the United Kingdom announced an unexpected drop of 0.5 per cent  in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the fourth quarter of 2010.

The CDB head said the region had been “severely affected by the global economic crisis” with declines in the export of goods and services, tourism, international financial services and minerals in 2009.

“Contraction of economic activity always hurts labour,” he said. “The Caribbean is not an exception.”

The 2009 ILO Labour Overview notes a rise in regional unemployment from 8.9% in 2008 to 10 per cent  in 2009.

“Unemployment levels increased throughout the region as workers suffered job losses despite ameliorative efforts of governments through subsidies and special credit facilities for business enterprises and direct public sector employment,” Bourne said.

Barbados Labour Minister, Esther Byer-Suckoo, said the region needed to be “pragmatic” and identify the specific sectors of the Caribbean economies that will be responsible for leading the recovery and generating jobs.

Once this is done, she said, “there must be clear guidance given by our economic planners, our businessmen, our investors and our exporters, who are in an ideal position to monitor and continuously analyse trends in the world economy and identify those high growth industries that, with sufficient resources, our countries may be able to penetrate.”

President of the Caribbean Employers’ Confederation (CEC), Marcel Meyer, however identified the need for “deep-rooted” social dialogue and tardiness associated with key elements of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market and Economy (CSME) as important factors impacting on the “ability of employers to do business in the region”.

“Notwithstanding the introduction of the concept of ‘decent work’ longer than a decade ago … at the national and regional levels social dialogue remains a far-fetched ideal rather than a deep rooted reality,” Meyer said.

The view was further elaborated by President of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL), David Massiah, who also urged that the concepts of tripartism and social partnership be “replicated in critical areas of the CSME.

“We suggest that if governments create such regional and national structures, a new life will be given to the meaning of freedom of association as the bedrock of democracy,” Massiah said.

“Once the concept of social partnership is imbedded and rooted at the regional and national levels, it should not be difficult to cascade the relationship and process down to the various levels of industrial interaction,” he added.