The one-month salary increase being demanded by public sector unions in lieu of salary increase since 2011 works out to be an 8.5 per cent salary increase, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says.
“You see, people are not calculating that when they say oh it’s a one-off payment. It is an eight and a half per cent increase, Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, said on radio on Wednesday.
“I leave it to the public to see whether they will consider in these circumstances of the global meltdown which have affected us adversely and all the disasters which have affected us — natural disasters — whether anyone could consider that to be something which could be paid by a government.”
Trade unions representing public sector workers have demanded that the payment be made before the next general elections, expected by year-end.
Last weekend, the union noted that industrial action is still an option and is legal in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Commenting on this, Gonsalves said:
“You know it is a free and democratic country, people can do what they wish to do within the framework of the law. I don’t worry about that and, as you know, industrial relations is one of the areas of my expertise.”
Gonsalves noted that he was one of the first persons at University of the West Indies in Barbados to teach a course in industrial relations and personnel management.
He said that during the negotiations, public servants came originally with a “back-of-the-envelope” proposal that included half and full salaries for public servants of various grades, and consideration for tax-free payment.
He said that when the formal proposal was submitted, “it metamorphosed into a full month salary for everybody and tax free”.
Gonsalves said that the nation’s salary bill is EC$25 million a month and added that the unions’ proposal will cost an additional EC$25 million.
“And given the fiscal situation which we have presented, how could anybody reasonable say that is something which can be sustainable,” Gonsalves said.
“What the press need to do, when it is said that prices have gone up so much over the years and so on, the truth of the matter is this, in some years, recently, prices have gone down, including fuel, which has affected every single area of the cost of living.”
Gonsalves said that president of the Commercial Technical and Allied Workers’ Union, Joseph Burns Bonadie, deals with these types of negotiations and can talk about these things.
“I don’t need to tell you what he will say, because he will know what the facts are because he researches it down with the statistical office with the consumer price index,” Gonsalves said.
Bonadie is also an activist on behalf of the ruling Unity Labour Party and introduced the party’s candidate for Central Kingstown, Beresford Phillips, at the party’s rally in Redemption Sharpes earlier this month.