The Teachers Union says it has suspended talks with the government and will seek “creative ways” to ensure that the state meets its demands for a one-month, tax-free salary payment since public servants have not received any salary increase in four years.
Union president Oswald Robinson told I-Witness News on Sunday that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves gave the unions the “same old khaki pants” during their meeting on Friday to discuss the proposal.
Trade unions first made the proposal earlier this year, and Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said he would have responded by the end of June.
But the government missed that deadline and met with the unions on Friday.
“Nothing has changed. It’s just that we told the Prime Minister that we are not going to hold any further discussion because we have been speaking for a very long time now,” Robinson told I-Witness News of Friday’s meeting.
“So we are not going to have any further conversation on this matter. We are going to our membership. And you know our membership is very creative, very innovative. So they will be giving us some creative ways to ensure that our requests are made,” Robinson told I-Witness News.
He said that Gonsalves told the meeting, which also included representatives of the Public Service Union (PSU), the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers Union (CTAWU), and the National Workers Movement (NWM) that his government is just not able to make the payment.
“He said he can’t give a hundred per cent, he said he can’t give 50 per cent and, finally, he said he can’t see him[self] giving us anything this year.”
President of the PSU, Elroy Boucher, gave a similar report when he spoke to I-Witness News separately on Sunday.
“The Prime Minister simply indicated that he is unable to pay. The problem is the ability to pay and he stated that at this time the government just cannot pay. It can’t find the money. Then he spoke about if they pay, they have to cut assistance to students, social programmes, etc,” Boucher told I-Witness News.
Robinson said those are the same reason that Gonsalves has been giving all along for not paying salary increases due to state employees.
“The same reasons we have been given all the time — with all the programmes he has for the rest of the country. But, I am not seeing anything in it for what we have been asking for.
“So the final analysis is that the workers of the country are not on the priority list of the Prime Minister. And we can’t allow things to go along that way.
“So the workers of the country must take a different approach in dealing with this matter and the executive cannot do it of itself, so we are going back to our members.”
Robinson said that while all the unions attended the meeting, his was the only one that said they will “not continue this kind of conversation”.
“As a matter of fact, I said we are just going around in circles because every time we go and we come back it’s like sending the fool a little further and I am not a fool.
“I am a conscious, objective leader and I am going to demonstrate that and give effective representation to my members because they rightly deserve that. The people elected me to serve and that is why I am dealing with the business of the union in a very objective way,” Robinson said.
Boucher also hinted displeasure on the part of his union, saying the executive will meet then will hold talks with the membership.
“Realistically, this is the fourth year that public servants are going into without any increase in salary or any emoluments,” he said.
He, however, indicated that the PSU and the Teachers’ Union will act together.
“We are doing this in tandem with the Teachers’ Union…” Boucher told I-Witness News.
“Any approach that we take will more than likely be a joint approach,” he said.
“All of the unions that were present impressed on the government the need for some financial relief for the unions, inclusive of Burns [Bonadie], which is CTAWU, Noel’s Union, which is NWM. So, the cry is a cry not of the Public Service Union and the Teachers’ Union. The cry has been expanded. It is a cry of all the trade unions in the country,” Boucher said.
Head of the CTAWU, Burns Bonadie and NWM president Noel Jackson are also activists on behalf of Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party government, including hosting some of the party’s radio programmes.