Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he is not saying that public workers do not deserve one month’s salary in the absence of salary increases since 2011.
“What I am saying is that the country cannot afford it. And if the 25 million dollars were given as a one-off payment this month, next month, you may not be able to get your salary,” Gonsalves told a conference of non-commissioned officers of the Police Force this week.
Trade unions representing public service workers have upgraded, from a request to a demand, a proposal for the government to pay one month’s salary, tax-free to workers in the absence of salary increases for almost five years.
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Gonsalves says the package will cost his government EC$25 million, which it will not be able to meet anytime this year.
“I am being honest with everybody,” he told the conference in Kingstown.
He, however, told the police officers that when trade union negotiators first made the proposal, it came as a “back of the envelope proposition”.
The initial proposition was that public workers above a particular level would get half-month’s salary and others will get a month’s, Gonsalves said.
He said he requested that the unions make the proposal in writing, and when it was sent to him, the proposal was one month’s salary for all workers, and that the government consider paying it tax-free.
Gonsalves said that only St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Kitts and Nevis still pays annual increments of 2 to 2.5 per cent on salaries of public workers, which benefits about 60 per cent of local public workers.
“When persons say that there is no increase for the last so many years, that relates to 40 per cent, maybe 45 per cent, but not to everybody, because there is an increment. You know that and I know that,” he said.
“You also know, those of you who go and study, I find the money for you to study. And the sums are huge. I went through them…” Gonsalves told the police officers.
“Believe me, I am trying my best to see what I could do. I know I can’t make 25 million dollars. I also said to you that in the New Year I am going to see if I could have a salary increase in the new estimates. Of course, people may feel that is a political gimmick,” he said.
Gonsalves has said that he will allow Vincentians to elect a new government by year-end, ahead of the March 2016 constitutional deadline.
“I assure you that it is not [a political gimmick]. When it comes to money, I am being very responsible, because the people elect me to be very responsible in that regard,” he said.
“I want to thank the police and the public servants, and the teachers, and the nurses for showing great forbearance with the government and people of this country in not being militant and demanding salary increases when you know there are difficult situations. I want to appreciate that. I want to tell you I appreciate that,” he said.