Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said Monday that he was “shocked” that the Teachers’ Union was asking for assurances about job security in light of commitments the government had made to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after receiving a US$6.4 million loan last month.
“Where does that come from? Where does that come from? Where does that come from? There is absolutely nothing like that in my letter to the IMF, absolutely nothing like that,” Gonsalves told I-Witness News on Monday.
“I mean I am shocked that anybody would even ask a questions like that. I have been employing more teachers, in fact,” he said.
The IMF said in a press release last month that the Gonsalves government remains committed to securing a sustainable fiscal position and intends to generate a primary surplus of at least 2 per cent of GDP in the medium term to ensure that the debt-to-GDP ratio is put on a declining path, the release said.
“The authorities also intend to carry out civil service and pension reforms, which will boost competitiveness and employment.”
But the Teachers’ Union said on Sunday that it is “all too cognisant of the negative consequences of such arrangements for public sector workers, especially teachers”.
President of the Union, Oswald Robinson, told I-Witness News on Monday that his union is seeking answers from the government.
“When we look at the IMF in the region and what has happened with other governments, we must be concerned,” Robinson said.
“So we are asking questions so that the government will explain to us what are some of the consequences which would affect workers, and in particular teachers,” he added.
He said one of the IMF’s conditions of granting the loan “has to do with containing salaries and it talks about government increasing revenue.
“And, as you know, one of the major means of government generating revenue is income tax. When we look at the St. Lucia situation and recently, Grenada, we have to ask questions therefore, so that we will be in a position to explain to our membership. So that is basically why we raised those questions,” he said.
Both Gonsalves and Robinson were asked about the union’s concern at the end of an event in Kingstown were the Caribbean Examinations Council formally released the results of the May-June exams.
Gonsalves, in a conversation with Robinson, asked the union leader if he was “allowing propaganda to lead you astray”.
The prime minister told Robinson St. Vincent and the Grenadines is one of two countries in the Caribbean that pays teachers annual increments of between 2 and 2.5 per cent of their salary and 65 per cent of public servants get their increments.
“We are asking for explanations,” Robinson told Gonsalves during the exchange.
“But you are adding to foolishness,” Gonsalves responded.
“No, no, no, no,” Robinson said, telling Gonsalves, “Nothing is wrong with asking a question,” Prime Minister.”
Robinson told I-Witness News that the union plans to raise the issue formally with the government.
“We intend to write, because it is good that you have public debates on these issues so that you are aware, because everybody has different perspectives,” he said.
Robinson further noted that public servants have not received increments since 2011.
“What we had in 2011 was a retroactive payment which was three years behind. Since then, we haven’t had any discussions with regard to increase. We are actually operating say seven to eight years behind,” he said.
“We are looking at the state of the economy, among other factors. As a union, you don’t just go blindly and ask for an increase. You have to ensure that it is justifiable,” he added.
Asked if he thinks such an increase was justifiable in the current circumstances, Robinson said:
“I am saying we have look at the economy, we have to look at the state of the economy, because, sometimes you ask for an increase and you go into a higher income bracket and it makes no sense. That the value of 100 dollars five, six years ago is not the same as now.”