Amidst accusations that some executive members are involved in politics, Head of the Teachers’ Union, Oswald Robinson, says he is confident that his executive is working in the interest of its members.
The Teachers’ Union and the Public Service Union are trying to pressure the government to pay public sector workers one month’s salary, tax-free, in lieu of salary increases since 2011.
The unions’ memberships have mandated them to demand that the one-month salary payment be made before general elections, expected before year-end.
But Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Finance, says that his government cannot make the payment, which amounts to EC$25 million or double the monthly wage bill.
Gonsalves has also suggested that some trade unionists are being political.
He said that he was informed that a woman in the trade union movement has said she is interested in a change of government, as she would become Chief Education Officer under a New Democratic Party administration.
Asked to comment on this, Robinson told I-Witness News on Monday:
“I can’t comment on who is introducing the politics. Politicians will always think politically and anytime you stand up and challenge a politician, they will always find some way to try to bring in politics.”
He, however, said there is nothing wrong with being ambitious.
“Everyone has ambition. Nothing is wrong if somebody wants a position. But to shift the focus to what somebody’s personal ambition is, that is not the right way to deal with this issues,” he told I-Witness News.
“Because we started to talk since December 2014, we formalised a proposal and presented it in January 2015, we have had three meetings, and nothing is happening. All of a sudden you are hearing who wants position now and who is NDP and who is ULP.
“All that is not necessary at this time. That is to shift focus and that is to divide the membership. I am not going to allow that to distract me. That is a distraction.
“People have their political ambitions on all sides.
“What I am saying is that this executive took the initiative, went forward with the Public Service Union to ask for this compensation. And after we were not getting any movement from the government, we told the government that we were going back to our membership. And the membership adopted our proposal and changed the tone of the process by inserting the word demand.
“And it gave the executive a mandate to do all that is necessary to put pressure on the government to get this one-month compensation. So we already have a mandate from the membership, and that is what we are going forward with.”
Robinson noted persons’ freedom of association right, adding that this extends to the entire membership of the trade union.
“If there is any member of the executive or the membership who do not want to subscribe and respect the decision of the meeting, then they have choices of what they could do. Because there are some people, they put their party before the union, but, at the end of the day, the union still has to go back and fight for them.”
He said that the Teachers Union will meet with the PSU this week as they continue their push for the salary payment.
“We are still consolidating, we are strategising and we are building up the momentum. That is important in order to encourage each other to keep focused.”
Robinson said that some segments of the media continue to beat up on the leadership of the trade union.
“I do get a lot of licks, but I am not going to return licks by defaming and pulling down anybody. I leave it to the Creator. I believe what we are fighting for it’s just, it’s reasonable and I think we should all unite as workers, as leaders of the labour movement, work together to advocate and speak with one voice so that the people we represent would be really proud of us.
“Every time you go to government and come back, people say you sell out. And it affects the image of the union; it affects the leadership of the union,” he said.