Public sector workers are being called upon to ready themselves for industrial action as trade unions continue to demand one month’s salary in lieu of wage increases since 2011.
“We also know that industrial action is still legal in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. It can range from sick-outs to full blown strike and we are calling on the government to re-channel some of the funds spent somewhere else to pay our teacher and public servants this one month,” Wendy Bynoe, public relations officer of the Teachers’ Union said this week.
“We ultimately have the power to ensure that we get this money and so we are calling on our members to ready themselves because we need to get this money,” she said on “Hitz Talk” on Sunday.
The radio programme was dedicated to discussion of the efforts by the unions to secure the one-month salary payment, an EC$25 million disbursement that the government has said it cannot afford this year.
But Bynoe said that teachers and public service works have sacrificed through “almost five years of wage freeze.
“Our purchasing power has been significantly eroded and we know the one-month would act as an economic stimulus,” she said, adding that when workers earn more money, they are likely to spend it, pouring more dollars into the economy.
She said that ironically, this year marks 40 years since teachers were tear-gassed during a strike in Kingstown as they demanded better working conditions, adding that the struggle continues.
President of the Public Service Union, Elroy Boucher, speaking on the same programme, said he has heard people say that the timing is a problem because elections are on the horizon.
He, however, noted that negotiations began since December 2014
“It is at this stage not because of the unions but because of the government. Because this payment could have been made since in January or February. So it is not something that was timed to coincide with elections.”
Boucher said that the unions wrote to Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves in December outlining that they need to have discussions about salary.
Boucher said that since 2011 there have been constant increases in the cost of living, making it more difficult for public servants to meet their basic needs.
“And it is necessary, very necessary for there to be some financial relief … Whether the Prime Minister wants to pay it one time or in different instalments, he needs to come up with a plan and put it to the unions. To say that you cannot afford isn’t acceptable,” Boucher said.
“There has to be a way to get something done … You must bring something to the table and at this stage. We are not hearing anything being put forward than the simple statement that it cannot be done.
“Prime Minister, the unions, the public service union, the teachers union, we are not going to accept what you are saying and, therefore, the demand must be made that some financial relief must be given and given before elections,” Boucher said.
Meanwhile, President of the Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson, remained optimistic about receiving the salary payment.
“We have envisaged victory. We are going to continue to mobilise behind the fact that teachers and public servants are important contributors to the society and the community and if one-month salary compensation is paid for the patriotism, patience and reasonableness that we have demonstrated over the years, then this cannot be described as a disfavour to the rest of the Vincentian society.
“In contrary, it would be an asset, because we have our families too, we are part of the society, and, therefore, we are seeking for social and economic justice for our membership,” Robinson said.